UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Because of significant labor shortages, Pennsylvania's dairy farms rely on Spanish-speaking immigrants as a key source of labor. However, cultural differences and language barriers can leave employers and workers lost in translation, affecting workers' well-being and community connection, and ultimately, farm viability.
A new, innovative community service-learning course — "Service-Learning with Pennsylvania Farmworkers" — offered by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is aimed at breaking down those barriers.
"This course is an example of how our faculty and students use their knowledge and talents to make a difference in the lives of others, and I applaud their dedication and enthusiasm," said Deanna Behring, assistant dean and director of international programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences, when referring to the inaugural course, which took place in the fall 2018 semester and was supported by the Harbaugh Faculty Scholars program.
Led by Kathleen Sexsmith, assistant professor of rural sociology, and Melanie Miller Foster, assistant professor of international agriculture, the initiative provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to teach English to Latino immigrant dairy-farm workers.
Nat Carney, a visiting fellow with the College of Education's Curriculum and Instruction Department, prepared lesson plans for immigrant farmworkers and trained students in basic techniques for teaching English as a second language.
The goals of the course are twofold: To help students gain a deeper understanding of the agricultural workforce and make connections between immigrant farmworkers' lives and the global forces of the agri-food system, and to support the local agricultural community by increasing workers' confidence in their language skills, thereby supporting farm viability.
In addition to classroom discussions on the changing landscape of agriculture in the state, the role of immigrant workers, and the cultural and language challenges they face, the students make biweekly trips to a local dairy farm, where they each are paired with a farmworker partner for English conversation sessions.