Migrant Students Explore Environmental Science with EarthGen

A migrant student holds her younger brother while examining mason jars filled with soil and apple slices to see which one decomposed the quickest as part of EarthGen's Zombie Guacamole program

More than 30,000 migrant students are enrolled in Washington schools, and in some school districts, more than half of the student body speaks Spanish at home.

But migrant and Spanish-speaking students are particularly vulnerable to the state’s infamous educational opportunity gap. For example, in the Grandview School District in the Yakima Valley, where the student body comprises 93% Hispanic/Latino students, only 26% met the state science standards in 2019. Gaps were only widened during the pandemic, when lack of access to remote learning resources exacerbated the challenges faced by migrant students and their families. In response to requests from its educational partners, EarthGen has developed engaging, culturally responsive science materials specifically for migrant and bilingual students.

Summer Learning in Spanish

Zombie Guacamole, one of EarthGen’s most popular science units, was an obvious choice for translation into Spanish as a summer program for migrant students in 2019. Students engage in activities to learn about energy cycling in ecosystems and waste reduction. Featuring a hands-on “Race to Decomposition,” Zombie Guacamole’s lessons about plants, soil, and food webs complement garden-based learning programs in schools. 

During the pandemic, EarthGen collaborated with four school districts to pilot at-home summer school programs for migrant students. EarthGen’s new Monarch Mystery program was created  to meet science standards using the culturally significant Monarch butterfly. Making important connections between migrant families’ experiences and the butterflies’ life cycle, the unit teaches students about pollination, metamorphosis, and migration. The at-home summer school version combined asynchronous and synchronous learning in English and Spanish with supplies provided by EarthGen.

Teachers who implemented the Monarch Mystery program reported that the content was responsive to the social-emotional needs of migrant students.They also reported that the content was highly interesting to students and their families, who were very engaged with the program. In 2021, Monarch Mystery was revised to specifically serve kindergarten through second grade, and several new districts are implementing the unit with their students.

“This tailored, customized, migrant-inclusive summer school curriculum [was] culturally responsive and beautifully human in how it was student-centered.”

CLINT WECKERLY, MIGRANT ACADEMIC COORDINATOR, Education Service District 189

Closing the Gap

Now available to English-language learners in summer programs across the state, EarthGen’s science units have improved each year to better meet the needs of Washington’s diverse communities. Breathing Easier, an EarthGen program that introduces upper elementary school students to air quality issues and environmental justice, is being used by migrant students as well. Whether at home or learning remotely, more Spanish-speaking students than ever are building their curiosity, exploring local nature and connecting to their local community with support from EarthGen.

A large group of Tukwila School District students examine plants on a garden tour.
Migrant and bilingual students examine pollinators and plants as part of their summer Monarch Mystery program in the Tukwila School District.

Avanzando

EarthGen is committed to ensuring that every young person across Washington can learn and take action to create a just and sustainable world. Going forward, EarthGen will continue collaborating with its partners to build on the success of these bilingual and Spanish-language programs, ultimately expanding to provide culturally-responsive learning environmental learning opportunities for migrant and Spanish-speaking students year-round.