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By Kevin Sieff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 8:48 PM
In her purple school binder, 13-year-old Ellifina Jean counted down the last days of the apple harvest, crossing off one box every afternoon, bringing her closer to a big smiley face and the words, scrawled in all caps: “DADDY’S LAST DAY OF WORK!”
Ellifina and her family were preparing to leave Virginia’s Winchester area apple orchards for Florida’s orange groves before heading north again, toward New Jersey, in search of blueberries. For Ellifina, each season brings a new school and a new list of courses that bears little resemblance to the last.
Such relentless mobility challenges the schools charged with educating the nation’s 475,000 migrant students. Many never start school, and in Virginia one-third fail to graduate on time. Migrant students trail others in performance on the state’s reading and math tests. That poses a major challenge for schools because federal law has set a goal for all students to pass those tests by 2014.
The stakes are even higher for the students themselves. “If these kids don’t settle in one place by high school, graduation is basically an impossibility,” said Katy Pitcock, who worked for Winchester’s migrant education program for 25 years, until 2004.