How the Harvest Impacts My School Life

For as long as he can remember, Angel Benavides has missed the beginning of the school year in Texas because his parents, Juan and Aracely Benavides, work in North Dakota until the harvest is through. Photo Credit: Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Right now I’m two months into the school year in Minto, North Dakota where my dad is working the potato and sugar beet harvests. When the crops are out of the ground and there’s no more work, we migrate back home to Rio Grande City, Texas for the winter. I’m never quite sure when the harvest will end. It’s up to Mother Nature and the farmers who employ my dad.

You can imagine it’s not exactly easy to live like this. You’re in the first couple months of school. You’ve just gotten used to your classes, you’re getting good grades and making friends, and then all of a sudden you have to move more than a thousand miles away to another school with new classes and new friends. Sounds kinda harsh, right?

That’s what has happened to me every year I’ve been in school. Every single year, I encounter new friends, new classes, and new teachers. And sometimes this happens more than once within the school year.

While my life isn’t that different from other people growing up in families of farmworkers who follow the harvest for work, my life is pretty different from most of the kids I go to school with, both in North Dakota and Texas. In Minto, I’m lucky because it’s a small school. I don’t have to worry about having to meet new friends every time I come back.

Angel visits his father, Juan, at work as he prepares machinery for the corn harvest. Photo Credit: Elissa Nadworny/NPR

However, Rio Grande City is a different story. When I go back, I’ll be in a brand new school and it’s huge. There are more than 300 kids per grade level, nine different periods a day and each subject is housed in its own building. It will feel hectic for me while the students and teachers will already be in their rhythm. But I’ve learned some strategies over the years to make the transition easier.

If I ease myself into a new school, I get too far behind. So it’s all about just throwing myself into the mix and doing my best to get in sync with the students who are up to speed. Sometimes my new school is covering material I already know and sometimes I have to catch up. I’ve learned to figure things out on the go and so far that’s gotten me good grades.

Extracurricular activities, on the other hand, are much more challenging for a migrant student like me. Why try out for the school play or sports teams when I might have to leave? This year, I’m hoping to play basketball when I get back to Texas.

My dad has worked hard to finish up the harvest early. He worked 14-hour shifts through the night to get the crops in. Snow or too much rain can slow the process down.

Left: Sugar beets. Right: Farm trucks outside Minto. Photo Credit: Elissa Nadworny/NPR

I feel bad putting extra pressure on my dad who already works so hard, but thanks to him and Mother Nature, I’ll be back in Rio Grande City in time for basketball tryouts next week. Now it’s on me to make the team.  

This essay was produced in collaboration with Wyoming Public Media.

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