Two words dominated the conversation at ED’s Tea with Teachers last week on the topic of supporting undocumented students: fear and hope. Educators balanced their concerns for their undocumented and mixed-status students, while acknowledging the hope that they ultimately deserve. During the tea, I couldn’t help but think of the student from my school district, who was sitting in a jail cell rather than a classroom, feeling those same emotions.
Wildin David Guillen Acosta was taken from his front yard on his way to his Durham, N.C., school in January, while his mother watched helplessly from their home. He would later join nine other students from North Carolina and Georgia whose parents and classmates also witnessed their arrests from bus stops, homes, and neighborhoods. While The Department of Homeland Security has designated schools with sanctuary status, teachers across the Southeast are arguing that ICE raids are threatening our students’ daily lives as their justifiable anxieties are occupying what could otherwise be devoted to their academic pursuits.
Teachers nodded in unison as we heard testimonials of students and family members who were taken from us by ICE or who suffer from PTSD from the threats that ICE raids pose. We questioned how we can engage our biggest allies, our students’ families, when schools serve as an intimidating environment. As César Moreno Pérez of the American Federation of Teachers stated at the tea, ICE raids are, “eroding the hope that educators worked so hard to build” in immigrant communities across our nation.
The threat of deportations is just the beginning of an undocumented student’s concerns. Teachers shared frustration with the barriers that are created as a result of misinformation, particularly post-secondary financial barriers. Secretary King acknowledged that some states are more committed to supporting our undocumented students’ collegiate goals, and this is certainly the case for me, as I noted that my former students in Colorado attend college with in-state tuition, while my current students in North Carolina have found limited options when searching for scholarships and financial aid.
Most notably, it is not just students who are vulnerable to the instability of our complex immigration system. A teacher with DACA status spoke of the important role that DACA qualifying teachers can play in inspiring students, yet this important role remains unstable as we wait for the results of the most recent Supreme Court case and next election. Since DACA is an executive order, the next President could remove it, making this teacher and others like her ineligible to do exactly what they feel called to do — show their own undocumented students that their dream career is within reach.
I left this tea once again with Wildin on my mind and an inbox full of resources from other teachers. It’s always inspiring to meet teacher leaders from across the country, and in this case, I feel more supported knowing they’re committed to empowering our students in the face of the barriers imposed on them.
Alice Dominguez is an English teacher at J.D. Clement Early College High School in Durham, North Carolina, and a founding member of a recently developed caucus to support undocumented students within the Durham Association of Educators. She previously taught in Las Vegas and Denver.
Although it can seem a little daunting at first, interning in Washington, D.C. is one of the most formative experiences a student can have. After interning in both the private and public sector, I have found that some practices are best practices, no matter where you intern. Here are some tips to get the most out of your internship experience:
I was somewhat bewildered my first week at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by the unending acronyms used to describe everything from organization names, to standardized tests, to new laws. When it got to the point where there were whole sentences I could not understand, I realized I should start asking questions – and did!
You are probably working with people you’ve never met before, so there is no way they can know all of your needs and vice versa. This goes along with asking questions, but extends to following up with projects, updating your supervisor on your progress and knowing when to ask for help. Pro tip: If you communicate with your supervisors, you will not be that intern who shows up on a snow day when the building is closed (or you could just download the OPM app).
During my second semester at ED, I was in the ID Office with a few other interns and we got to talking. It turned out one of them was roommates with a woman with whom I had studied abroad in Brazil, and the other intern and I had a class together at American University. I met another intern also in the badging office my very first day at ED, and we still keep in touch even though it has been months since he returned to Indiana for school.
It’s also important to connect with the employees in and out of your office. Ask them to coffee, invite them to lunch or offer to help them with a project. Everyone is very busy, but they are happy to take time to get to know you. I will never forget when I introduced myself as an intern and an ED employee whom I had never met before exclaimed, “I love interns!”
Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
Most internships offer opportunities to attend interesting events in D.C., participate in brown bag lunches and meet senior staff. I’ve been able to tour the White House and Supreme Court, meet two Secretaries of Education and go to a Wizards basketball game with other interns. The people in my office have also invited me to events outside of work, such as Women in Foreign Policy panels at the Department of State and this year’s Washington Area Model United Nations Conference.
Through the ED Goes Back to School visit series I was able to visit not one, but three schools serving students in grades Pre-K through 8th and really get a feel for what education is like in the District. I also had the opportunity to help plan this month’s ParentCamp International, which brought over 200 parents and community leaders representing immigrant and refugee communities in the DMV area to the Department of Education. And all I had to do to get involved was show up – it’s that easy!
Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. She will graduate from American University in May 2016 and will attend the University of Minnesota for graduate school in the fall.