I began teaching roughly 10 years ago. With nothing more than a teaching certification and a lot of ganas or desire to be successful, I was hired at César Chávez High School. At the end of the interview, I remember the principal telling me that I had answered every single question incorrectly, but that he saw potential in me and was willing to give me a chance. One of the questions he asked me was if I wanted the students to like me. I was quick to respond — no. I was there to teach students, not to be their friend. Boy, have I come a long way!
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young people who are mounting an inspiring fight to overcome barriers and make this country stronger. They are called the DREAM Riders, and they are taking their vital message to the entire country.
The DREAM Riders are a group of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) who have been granted deferred action through the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. What that means is that, for certain young people who came to the United States as children, the government has deferred action that would remove them from the country, and given them authorization for employment.
These young people, along with student supporters, are kicking off the DREAM Riders Tour. This tour will take them all over the country with stops in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and California, among others. The group plans to rally local AAPI youth and students around the need for Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform and lay the foundation for relationships and future collaboration with local organizations and leaders.
I was inspired by the stories of the DREAM Riders and their friends and family— stories often rooted in hardship and heartbreak as their parents strive to make ends meet — stories of success and struggle as they try to obtain the best education that our country has to offer.
The DREAM Riders and I discussed the significance of a meaningful pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented individuals and our collective efforts to ensure passage of commonsense immigration reform. The Senate has passed this legislation in a strong bipartisan vote for legislation in the Senate, but the House of Representatives has not yet taken action.
AAPI communities and families have a huge stake in this debate. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approximately 1.1 million individuals of Asian descent are undocumented. According to the Department of State, approximately 2 million individuals of Asian descent are currently waiting abroad to reunite with their families in America.
The future of our country and our economy brightens tremendously under the provisions of this legislation. Earlier this month, the White House released a report highlighting the numerous and varied economic benefits of fixing our broken immigration system, including helping to grow our economy by creating new business and jobs. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill will increase the nation’s GDP 3.3 percent by 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2033. We should not underestimate the economic value of hard-working AAPI immigrant and refugee families: many AAPI immigrants start their journey in the United States as small business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs.
The efforts of these AAPI DREAM Riders will significantly impact younger generations in their communities. I wish these young advocates the best of luck on their upcoming tour and commend their efforts to ensure that the collective voices of their communities are heard.
“This may not mean anything to somebody who is accustomed to civic action or to somebody who has always recognized the power they have. But for me, being a poor black girl from Baltimore, knowing I helped pass two pieces of important legislation makes me feel invincible.” –Taikira White, The Intersection
Through civic engagement, Taikira White and Dawnya Johnson, high school juniors from Baltimore, learned to advocate for themselves and their peers on issues that impact their daily lives. Both students participate in The Intersection, an organization that helps students from underserved areas in Baltimore attend and complete college, give back to their communities and engage in civic action. By canvassing their neighborhoods, organizing rallies, telling stories and holding press conferences, White and Johnson’s engagement contributed to Maryland’s adoption of the Maryland DREAM Act last year and Governor Martin O’Malley’s Firearm Safety Act this year.
In June 2011, Dawnya’s cousin, her closest friend and mentor, was shot on the streets of Baltimore and died before an ambulance arrived. “I lost hope,” she said, “I came extremely close to dropping out of school…and I didn’t care about anything or anyone, least of all myself.” Since becoming involved with The Intersection, Dawnya transformed herself from “that bad kid,” as her teachers called her, to the honor roll student and community leader she is today.
These two powerful young women recently spoke to staff from the U.S. Department of Education at the “ED Youth Voices: Students Transforming Schools and Communities” policy briefing. We learned how their work has empowered them to be better students and leaders, both inside the classroom and out. “Too often, our voices are overlooked because we are students, because we are not able to vote! We are not roaming black mobs of youth, we are tomorrow’s leaders,” Taikira declared passionately.
Heaven Reda, a recent high school graduate, spoke at the event on behalf of the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) describing how their civic engagement efforts to include student input in official teacher evaluations gave Massachusetts’ students a voice in their education. “There was a huge disconnect,” Reda explained, between what teachers were teaching and what students were actually learning.
BSAC’s campaign, “We’re the Ones in the Classroom: Ask Us!” to address this issue was successful, but told the audience that there is always more we can do. “So often we see a budget as a limit, when there is so much you can do with so little,” she said. “Let a student teach for a day, or help them build a curriculum or a strong student government. There needs to be someone who tells them, look, you are powerful.”
The briefing, organized by ED’s Youth Engagement Team, brought together over 100 ED staff and even more watching via online, to hear the students stories. For the past two years, ED’s Youth Engagement Initiative has worked with young people to better understand their needs and the obstacles to their successes, and ED has used that information to better align federal programs with the needs of young people. Thanks to incredible students like Taikira, Dawnya, and Heaven, our job is made easier as they step up as leaders in their communities and lend young people everywhere a voice in their government.
If you are interested in learning how to engage youth in your school or districts or are already doing that please reach out to the ED Youth Engagement Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elena Saltzman, OCO Intern attending Brown University and Samuel Ryan, Special Assistant and Youth Liaison
Secretary Duncan answers questions at the Hispanic Twitter Town Hall. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.
An engaged audience with a broad range of questions joined Secretary Arne Duncan on Twitter and via video yesterday to discuss education issues facing the Latino community. Duncan was joined by José Rico, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and guests from Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). In all, Arne and José answered more than 20 questions. Here is a sample of some of the topics discussed:
We cannot have a strong Unites States without a strong Latino community ^Duncan #hispaniced
More than 350 community leaders came together last Saturday in Phoenix for the White House’s Hispanic Community Action Summit at the ASU-Downtown Campus. Arizona civic leaders joined in thought-provoking discussions and analysis of a wide-range of policy areas, but on display was the kind of interactive conversations that make our democracy work.
The event examined issues important to all Arizonans. At the Summit, DREAM Act advocates who attended were passionate about their desire to achieve the American Dream. They participated in meaningful dialogue with business and civic leaders, educators and students covering a wide range of topics in the daylong session.
In addition to discussions regarding comprehensive immigration reform, thirty-three other issues were explored in small groups. Productive solutions were presented throughout the day in round-table settings that focused on job creation, economic development, health care, education and the current state of the Arizona housing market, among others.
High-level White House officials sought a local perspective on solving these issues and it quickly became apparent that the concerns are not solely Hispanic challenges; they are Arizona challenges; they are American challenges.
The visitors from Washington D.C. as well as the participants in each of the discussion groups, young and old alike shared their insights, knowledge, and expertise. There truly was a two-way flow of information.
The meeting was about Arizona achieving its brightest future. Almost half of Arizona’s K-12 student population is Hispanic. With Latinos making up the fastest-growing community in Arizona and the United States, we must be better positioned to succeed academically and economically if Arizona is to compete both nationally and globally.
Kent Paredes Scribner, Ph. D.
Superintendent, Phoenix Union High School District
Scribner serves on the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, and was one of the co-hosts of the Summit.
Secretaries Hilda Solis and Arne Duncan meet with students during one of Duncan's regular "Student Voices" sessions. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.
A powerful concept packed into a single word.
This was the word one young person chose to describe what education means to him when asked by Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis as part of a reoccurring Student Voices meeting at ED headquarters. The frank conversation between the Secretaries and the group of young advocates largely revolved around the obstacles undocumented youth face while living in the United States, particularly limited access to higher education.
Several of the students discussed how difficult it was to be a “DREAMer”—a label derived from the “DREAM Act” that the students use to describe undocumented young people who have lived in the U.S. from a very young age. The students explained their frustration and disappointment that they cannot fulfill their dreams of a college degree once they graduate high school, good grades and hard work are rendered invalid the day they learn they can’t apply to colleges or scholarships without having a social security number.
With estimates of approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduating from American high schools annually and no viable pathway to legal status, this is not an isolated problem.
DREAMers’ obstacles to higher education are myriad. Even if accepted, most colleges and universities require undocumented students to pay non-resident or out-of-state tuition – a prohibitive cost. They get no access to federal financial aid (this includes Work Study and Pell Grants) and their chances for scholarships are narrow at best.
“I got in to a top school,” said one now non-student with tears welling up in his eyes. “But I deferred because I don’t have a way of paying for it. I can’t apply for financial aid, so Work Study is out.”
Victor George Sánchez Jr., President of the United States Student Association, speaks with the Secretaries during the "Student Voices" session. Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams.
There is irony in the fact that the U.S. has an abudance of undocumented students who are extremely motivated, informed, who earn excellent grades, and who have developed marketable skills.
And yet, we are turning away promising nation-builders in droves.
As teachers, we work tirelessly to prepare our students for their next steps in life – documented or undocumented. It’s as if these fearless young people are on a starting block and we rally them to bound forward enthusiastically with all the promises of a college education and the hopes of a solid career.
“Ready!…Set!…” But instead of yelling “Go!” we ask them to take one step back because, while they did every single thing we asked of them over their school career (and they did it well), it’s still not enough.
I ask myself why we spend so much energy on creating more hoops for talented young DREAMers to jump through. Why not spend it finding ways for them to connect with opportunities they worked so hard to glean?
Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.
“The work you do is a labor of love,” Secretary Duncan told a group of education leaders and philanthropists at the 4th annual conference of Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) earlier today in Alexandria, Va. Duncan thanked the attendees for their “commitment, hard work, and the difference you are making in students’ lives around the country.”
CPER is a collaborative of national, state, and local funders supporting community-led efforts to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students in low-income areas. Duncan used his time during the group’s lunch session to address school turnarounds, the importance of early education and the need for better parent engagement.
The Secretary was met with loud applause when he said that the time is overdue for Congress to enact the DREAM Act and that we “have to get it done.” He noted that passage of the DREAM Act is an economic issue because it allows talented students to continue their education beyond high school, and prepare them for good careers.
Earlier this month President Obama once again issued his support for the DREAM Act, explaining that “we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents. We should stop denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military.”
Click here to read Secretary Duncan’s December op-ed in support of the DREAM Act.