Two representatives from the Vermont Department of Agriculture came to the Montpellier High School advanced Spanish class to discuss the broad issue of migrant workers in the state. They explained that Vermont has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of Spanish speaking dairy workers that support dairy farms. Many of the dairy workers do not know enough English to perform employment tasks, threatening their safety. Inspired to help, the students worked with the DOA representatives to find a solution for the communication barrier between the dairy farmers and the migrant workers. Based on their specific need, the representatives challenged the students to create a CD for dairy producers around the state, employing Spanish speaking workers, addressing translated safety information. The project would match the student’s requirements for oral presentation, verb conjugation, conversational vocabulary and culture.
Following their meeting with the DOA representatives, students began researching the language barrier for migrant workers in Vermont with earnest. They listened to various podcasts and read newspaper articles about Spanish speaking laborers. During their investigation, students realized the complexity of the issue and began to discover peripheral problems including access to health care and earning livable wages. In structuring the content of the safety information to be included on the CD, the students developed a two month timeline, including weekly reflections and class reviews of their progress. Each time the whole class came together to discuss their progress, they celebrated with snacks and juice. They worked with the school’s technology coordinator to learn Audacity software, with which they created the CD. They tracked their oral translations on “tailgate sheets”, which kept the entire class informed on each individual’s progress and maintained the student’s enthusiasm and the classroom’s collaborative spirit.
The students contacted local newspapers, and wrote articles for the school’s e-newsletter to publicize the project. As the students finished compiling the CD and reconnected with the representatives from the DOA, they struggled with the evaluation of the project. The DOA distributed the CDs to dairy farmers across the state, but students could not contact the farmers directly about their effectiveness because many of the producers did not want others knowing that they sometimes employed illegal workers. Despite this setback, the DOA assured the students that they would monitor the CDs’ impact on the health and safety of the migrant workers. The school community, so impressed by the students accomplishments, released a special addition of their e-newsletter, highlighted the project on a televised school board meeting, and included the project in the school’s annual report. The class also received an official letter of recognition from the Department of Agriculture, thanking them for their contribution for the further safety of all of Vermont’s workers.