getting to know you

Scheffel, McClellan, vying for seat on State Board of Education, share where they stand on the issues

Partisan control of the State Board of Education is in play this November. And the race to represent the 6th Congressional District on the board is the main event.

Incumbent Republican Debora Scheffel and Democratic challenger Rebecca McClellan took time to answer a few questions from Chalkbeat about the issues facing the state board in the coming month.

Their responses, lightly edited, follow. And for a closer look at the race and what’s at stake, read this article.

Debora Scheffel, Republican incumbent

Please share a brief bio:
I started my career as a teacher and have worked in education for three decades, teaching, teaching teachers and now running a school of education. I have seven nieces and nephews so for me public education is very personal. I am invested in both making sure every student has access to a great public education and that the teachers in classrooms have the tools and flexibility they need to teach their students. I approach each decision not as a politician seeking approval, but as a teacher passionate about making sure students have great experiences.

What is the greatest issue facing Colorado schools today and how do you hope to address it as a member of the state board? 

State Board of Education member Deb Scheffel meets with participants at an education forum in Aurora.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
State Board of Education member Deb Scheffel meets with participants at an education forum in Aurora.

The greatest issue is the diversity of issues facing schools; solutions must therefore be diverse. Solutions must be developed at the local level with an engaged community that comes together, hears all voices and makes great decisions for students. I will continue to work hard to support local solutions that work for students, families, and staff.

The common issues I will work to resolve include increasing flexibility in how we measure success, reducing testing and federal overreach and allocating enough resources to make sure there is a high-quality teacher in each classroom and an exceptional leader in each school.

What role should the State Board of Education serve in shaping state education law and policy?
As the elected body with oversight of the state’s education system, we should provide feedback to legislators and advocate for laws that reduce the burden on districts so resources can be focused on students. We have oversight of statewide policy which guides the standards and the accountability system. Listening to all stakeholders we make decisions to help assure each student has access to great public education. This takes a commitment to listening to teachers, staff, students, parents and community members, reading materials and asking questions to make sure we have all the information necessary to make quality decisions.

What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?
The Colorado Department of Education, or CDE, should work with local districts as requested to provide resources and break down barriers to help them succeed. They should work collaboratively with local districts helping to create opportunities for students and staff. CDE should also take input from local districts and advocacy groups seeking input on policy development and implementation. All stakeholders should have a seat at the table as CDE develops standards, resources, accountability rules and policies.

Colorado Votes 2016 | For more coverage on issues and races this election click here.

Colorado needs a new education commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?
The ideal Commissioner is a lifelong learner, a strong leader, and great manager. He/she should keep students at the core of all decisions. He/she will bring years of experience in instructional practices and respect the teaching profession, will inspire others to action and have a track record of success. He/she will solicit and listen to input, and collaborate with all stakeholders and will lead the employees at CDE so they provide top notch support to districts. He/she will know how to work with a board and partner with the legislature to make sure laws are passed supporting success.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act? 
As Colorado implements ESSA I hope we provide additional measures defining student success and additional flexibly to schools and districts in how they both provide for student’s needs and proof of success. I hope we honor the requests of stakeholders not to make changes too quickly and gather input from around the state. We must understand that given the diversity of students in our Colorado schools, we can’t implement a one-size- fits- all education system. We need a system that allows small, large, rural and urban districts the flexibility they need. I hope we develop a system with more rewards and supports and less punishments.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system, if so, how?
Colorado will be evaluating its standards; thinking about how to change our testing system in light of that process is vitally important. We should provide flexibility for districts so they can use an assessment system which can be normed to the state system and still provide robust accountability. We need to have a system that works for students, staff and parents. As we evaluate standards we should also be evaluating testing that reduces the number of hours spent testing, provides more immediate feedback, and is helpful for teachers, students and parents in providing actionable data.

Some 12 schools and five school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The State Board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low-performing schools or turn them over to charters? 
I see the State Board working with local leaders and districts to determine the best paths forward for those at the end of the accountability timeline. We should not take any alternatives off the table as being in this position means that students have not been adequately served for far too long. We know that leaders at these schools and in these districts have been working hard to improve. Some may just need more time, some may need flexibility in showing the success they have achieved and some may need help moving on a different path.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? 

It is time for a robust community conversation about what we want our students to know and to update the Colorado Academic Standards. Colorado needs to own our standards and communities must come together to decide what skills we want our students to acquire to be ready for successful futures. I hope we develop consensus about both the standards and the systems we use to measure progress. We know not all children have the same goals and talents so we must provide flexibility in how we measure success. I hope the outcome is collaborating stakeholders focused on student success.

Rebecca McClellan, Democrat challenger

What is the greatest issue facing Colorado schools today and how are you going to address it?
Underfunding is our greatest challenge. Early childhood education, teacher recruitment and retention, access to mental health services, services for English language learners, health and nutrition, and resources for persistently low performing schools, are all impacted by funding concerns. I would advocate for education funding, and also for a reduction in the time and financial resources required for standardized testing. Students deserve a comprehensive, well-rounded education, including subjects and programs not emphasized in high stakes tests, such as the arts and sports. We must also improve access to mental health services in our schools. Funding concerns impact all of these needs.

What role should a State Board of Education Member serve in shaping state education law and policy?

Rebecca McClellan, a candidate for the State Board of Education, greets a participant at a forum in Aurora.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Rebecca McClellan, a candidate for the State Board of Education, greets a participant at a forum in Aurora.

The State Board’s role should be to act as an effective and unified governing body that champions policies and laws to serve and support all Colorado public school students. Both in their direct decisions and in their advocacy with legislators, State Board Members should be seen as highly knowledgeable and credible resources on the impact of laws and statewide policies on local districts, schools and communities. That begins with frequent and accurate communications by each Board Member with all constituencies the Board Member represents. State Board of Education Members should not micro-manage teachers.

What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?
One of the Department’s primary objectives is to serve and support local districts. Seeking frequent input from local school districts and statewide advocacy groups is essential in identifying the impact of policy decisions. Open communication with the full range of stakeholders allows the Board to learn of opportunities for improvement, as well as faster discovery of unintended consequences that require attention.

Colorado needs a new Education Commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?
The ideal candidate should not bring their own agenda, but should take direction from the Board, respecting that their elections reflects the priorities of voters. The candidate should have experience running a large, complex organization, and a track record for successfully supporting public schools in times of lean budgets. Experience balancing the needs of a socioeconomically diverse district or state and experience working with a divided board would be desirable. The ideal candidate should be willing to work with department legal staff to ensure that all proper procedures are followed with respect to transparency in accordance with Colorado law.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act?
I would like to see a reduction in standardized testing to reduce the time lost to testing, as well as the financial cost. I would like to see Colorado take a less punitive approach, in favor of identifying the need for resources to help schools most in need. I would like to see a reduction in the amount of bureaucratic assessment paper work required of teachers and administrators. We should remove the pressure to teach to the test by taking a less punitive approach.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system, if so, how?
The State Board of Education should take seriously the input of stakeholders including students, teachers, parents, school district boards and administrators. I do not have a rigid agenda regarding a specific test or vendor, but would like to see us settle on a reasonable assessment system we can keep. Momentum is lost and expenses are incurred each time we have to re-gear to a new system. Listening carefully to the concerns and priorities of stakeholders is essential to good decision making for an elected official, and I take that duty very seriously.

Some 30 schools and eight school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The State Board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low-performing schools or turn them over to charters?
Parent, teacher, student and community input is essential to understanding the unique challenges faced by our lowest performing schools. There is not a “one size fits all” answer. For example, Aurora Central High School serves many refugees who may be traumatized and facing the challenge of acclimating to a new country. In some cases, students may not have been able to attend school regularly in the country they left. Finding the right solution with the resources available involves working with those most familiar with each school’s unique challenges. Parents and community members must have empowerment in the process.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? Would you support whatever the panel recommended even if it went against your personal opinion of the Common Core Standards?
Colorado must have strong standards that benefit students and prepare them to make sound life choices after graduation. I do not have a rigid agenda regarding a specific set of standards. Standards that allow for consistency from state to state would help families who relocate to know that a child exiting one grade will be prepared to start the next grade in their new state. Feedback from educators, students and parents should be taken seriously during the upcoming review process as the Board strives to refine our standards to reflect the high expectations that will benefit all of our students.

Building Plans

Bond defeat in Jefferson County puts Alameda school renovations on hold — again

PHOTO: Yesenia Robles
Students move through the crowded cafeteria at Alameda International Junior/Senior High School in Lakewood.

Of all the Jefferson County schools pinning their hopes on the district’s bond and tax measures on the November ballot, few had as much to gain — or lose — as Alameda International.

The cafeteria is so cramped, the school spreads lunch over four periods and some students stand or sit in the hallways to eat. The gym locker rooms don’t have enough lockers. The school is lacking appropriate space to add career classes and teachers are forced to share classrooms.

When voters turned down the $535 million bond request this year for Jeffco Public Schools, Alameda International lost out on getting fixes to those problems as part of a $20 million renovation at the school that has been on hold since at least 2008. The district described the work that the bond would have covered as fulfilling a “past promise.”

Now the principal, Susie Van Scoyk, worries that some of the momentum of the school’s improvements from the last seven years will slow and that retaining teachers at the high-needs school will become more difficult.

The defeat stings more because the school is changing. Last year Alameda International expanded from being a stand-alone high school to including middle school grades.

“Our building isn’t built for younger students,” Van Scoyk said. “Middle school students have different developmental and social needs.”

Jeffco is working on updating plans following the failure of the district’s two tax requests — the bond and a smaller tax increase known as a mill levy override. Van Scoyk said she will continue to be a loud proponent for her school’s needs.

“I believe the students here deserve the same type of facility other students have,” Van Scoyk said. “But we will do the very best with what we do have.”

Alameda International, a school on Jeffco’s eastern boundary with Denver, currently has more than 1,200 students. More than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced priced lunch — a measure of poverty — and about 22 percent are learning English as a second language. It’s a different population from the suburban district’s average school.

“This is really more of an urban school, with the needs of an urban school,” Van Scoyk said. “I can’t go to my PTA and say ‘Hey, we really need to or want to buy new science textbooks or we want to get laptops, or iPads.’ We just don’t have that capacity here.”

The school’s preliminary state ratings this year show Alameda’s high school grades moved up to the performance category for the first time in more than five years. In part, the rating is likely influenced by the school’s rising graduation rate. In 2015, the state recorded Alameda’s graduation rate at more than 92 percent, up from about 71 percent in 2010.

“The students and staff really have been remarkable,” Van Scoyk said.

But lately she says she’s had countless conversations with younger teachers who say they can’t afford to stay in Jeffco if they can make more in neighboring districts. The district’s mill levy override — a second property tax request that voters turned down — would have maintained and possibly increased teacher salaries.

“I want to keep the really good teachers we have here,” Van Scoyk said. “We know what makes a difference for a child is a high-quality teacher.”

Jeffco’s school board members voiced the same sentiment at a recent board meeting discussing with staff what should be prioritized as the district figures out what cuts might be necessary following the defeat of the tax requests. Many said that teacher retention should be prioritized with what money the district has.

Looking back, forward

Alameda’s school building on South Wadsworth Boulevard has been expanded many times since it was built in 1961 to try to accommodate more students, but some original shared spaces like the lunchroom and the gym locker rooms haven’t kept up.

The school has two gyms, but the locker rooms don’t have enough lockers for students. Teachers require students to change for physical education classes, but assistant principal Williams said they can’t penalize students since many don’t have a place to store a change of clothes.

Outside the building, school leaders would like more open space for the middle school student’s activities. Right now, most middle school students play on an open space behind the tennis courts, but between the building’s additions, the bleachers and the tennis courts, the area isn’t easily visible to the staff watching the students, so it takes more adults to be outside watching kids around each corner.

Inside, staff and administrators closely monitor their radios because the school’s announcement system is old and doesn’t work in the cafeteria. If something else is being broadcast through the speakers in the school’s auditorium, the announcements won’t be heard in there either. That presents a safety issue if something has to be communicated in an emergency, such as an evacuation.

Some of those issues were expected to be fixed as part of the phase two renovations that would have been paid for by the district’s bond. The work was put on hold when voters in 2008 rejected the school district’s tax measures that year, too.

In 2012, voters did approve a $99 million bond request, but the smaller amount covered more immediate deferred maintenance across the district, not big renovation projects.

Alameda’s turnaround efforts started seven years ago centered on the rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Two years ago school leaders started expanding on the program by offering the IB program’s career classes too.

It started with health career classes. Students in the career pathway can graduate with a certificate in bilingual medical terminology giving them the chance to work in medical offices as translators who are proficient in language and the context.

Students also asked for an arts career option and one for STEM careers, representing those in science, technology, engineering and math. The arts classes just started this year. The STEM classes are now on hold. School leaders said they were hoping to use bond money to build or retrofit classrooms for engineering courses.

“To have a STEM pathway, we don’t have the type of facility and equipment that some of our neighboring schools have,” Van Scoyk said.

If the bond had passed this year, the renovation of the building also would have likely addressed the building’s layout that is causing stress on the new seventh through 12th grade model.

School leaders are juggling schedules and class locations to keep younger students away from older students. Although the building can house more students, keeping kids in separate parts of the school by grade level means space is short in some places where it can be enough in others. Williams, in charge of the master schedule, has three white boards in his office that help him track what teachers are in what classroom at what time.

It’s not ideal, but school leaders say they are managing for now.

“Kids keep coming everyday,” Van Scoyk said. “They have to be our focus.”

Facing the Unknown

What Trump’s election means for undocumented educators

PHOTO: Agatha Bacelar/Emerson Collective
Marissa Molina teaching last year at DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School.

For three Denver educators, life in Donald Trump’s America is a big unknown.

They worry the president-elect will erase the protections that allowed them, as undocumented immigrants brought here as children, to step out of the shadows and into the classroom. All three were inspired to teach by the teachers who helped them succeed in a new country.

Marissa Molina came to the United States from Mexico when she was 9. Before her first day of school, her uncle armed her with the phrase, “I don’t speak English.” The librarian read Clifford the Big Red Dog with her after school to help her learn the language.

Alejandro Fuentes left his native Chile when he was 4 to join his mother in the United States. When he repeated for her the first sentence his teachers taught him to say in English — “My name is Alex and I like to learn” — she cried.

Carlos Ruiz’s mother brought him to the United States when he was 6 to give him a better shot at graduating high school and going to college, which she hadn’t been able to do in Mexico.

When Ruiz was in 11th grade, she gave a speech about what it meant for her and her son to be undocumented. A local college president was in the audience. Afterward, he gave her his card and offered to help. Ruiz said he never would have been able to afford college otherwise.

“It wasn’t until the middle of college that I realized not everybody’s parent gives a speech and the president of a university happens to be there,” Ruiz said. “That’s when I realized wanted to go into education so I could open the doors for other students.”

Ruiz, Fuentes and Molina became teachers through Teach for America, a national organization that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income schools. Starting in December 2013, the organization began deliberately seeking out graduates granted work permits and exemption from deportation through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

Known as DACA, it was created by executive action in 2012 to give protections, but not citizenship, for two years at a time to undocumented immigrants who came here as children.

Trump has said he plans to reverse Obama’s executive actions, including DACA.

If that happens, the nearly 750,000 young immigrants shielded by DACA would be forced into the underground economy. Ruiz, Fuentes and Molina could no longer work in public schools.

“Teachers have such a huge potential for change and being positive … influences on students,” Fuentes said. “The fact that would not be something I could do deeply saddens me.”

We spoke with all three educators, who are in their early- to mid-twenties, about their lives and careers — and how a presidential election in which they weren’t allowed to vote could profoundly alter them.

•••

Marissa Molina grew up in Glenwood Springs on Colorado’s Western Slope. Her family, fearful of the repercussions, instructed her never to speak about her immigration status.

“That created a lot of shame for me,” she said. “My story and my struggles, instead of being something I was proud to overcome, really was just a sense of embarrassment.”

Marissa Molina. (Photo courtesy Marissa Molina)
Marissa Molina. (Photo courtesy Marissa Molina)

It wasn’t until her senior year of high school, when she was working with her school counselor on scholarship applications, that she admitted to not having a Social Security number.

“Instead of making me feel like a terrible person, he was like, ‘Let’s get to work. Let’s figure out how you’re going to get to college,’” she remembers. “That sense of empowerment he gave me to advocate for myself was something I had never felt before.”

Molina ended up enrolling at Fort Lewis College in Durango as an international student, but paying tuition was a struggle. She cleaned houses with her mom and tutored fellow students in Spanish to help her parents with the bill. But by her junior year, their resources were tapped.

“I remember having serious conversations with my parents: ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I don’t want to live this lie. What does it mean if they give me a piece of paper that I graduated and then I can’t use it?’” she said. She told them she was thinking of going back to Mexico.

Her mother begged her to have faith. That summer, Obama announced DACA. One of Molina’s friends called to tell her about it. “I will never forget because I was cleaning windows with my mom and saying, ‘You were right. I just had to have a little bit of faith,’” she said.

Molina applied right away and then secured a scholarship to help pay for her senior year. As she was deciding what to do after graduation, she came across Teach for America, which had placed its first two “DACAmented” teachers in Denver. Though she had majored in political science and economics — not education — Molina felt called to give back.

“This was a way to say, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for me. Let me pay it forward by helping other kids achieve,’” she said.

Last school year, Molina taught Spanish at DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School, a charter school in far northeast Denver. While the student body was more than 50 percent Latino, Molina said she was the only Latina teacher. That made a difference to her students, she said.

One comment in particular stuck with her.

“The student said, ‘This is the first time in a classroom where I can have a conversation about race and immigration without feeling sick to my stomach. … Listening to her tell us her struggle as a Latina woman helps me understand how I can do it,’” Molina recalled.

This year, Molina is the community engagement coordinator at Rocky Mountain Prep, which has three charter schools in Denver and Aurora. In that role, she helps families — the majority of whom are Spanish-speaking — advocate for their children.

Molina said she followed the presidential election closely and even knocked doors for Hillary Clinton. Trump’s win, she said, was painful. “When I woke up Wednesday morning, it was hard not to feel that all of the people who voted for him had directly voted against me,” she said. “It was a lot of reminding myself that’s not necessarily the truth.”

Whatever happens with DACA, Molina said she’s confident she’ll be OK because the education she received in the United States opens doors for her here and abroad.

And frankly, she said, living with fear and anxiety is nothing new for her and millions of other undocumented immigrants. The difference now, she said, is that she’s willing to share her story. And because of that, Molina said she received several texts after Election Day from people pledging to stand with her. One of them was from a former student.

It read, in part, “You’ve never given up on yourself and never given up on your community. You’re a remarkable role model in my life,” Molina said. That, she said, was a call to action.

“I taught 120 young kids who are looking to me and saying, ‘Now what?’” Molina said. “I want to be able to show them it is possible to stand up for what you believe without hating other people.”

•••

Alejandro Fuentes spent his childhood in California. His mother and stepfather worked low-paying jobs and his family moved around a lot. In third grade, he went to seven different elementary schools.

Because he’d been identified as “gifted and talented,” he recalls that teachers were always pulling for him. For sixth grade, he was encouraged to apply to The Preuss School, a highly-rated San Diego charter school for low-income students.

Alejandro Fuentes. (Photo courtesy Alejandro Fuentes)
Alejandro Fuentes. (Photo courtesy Alejandro Fuentes)

His first two years there, Fuentes said he was the class clown. Then, when he was in eighth grade, his family was evicted from their home. It was a personal blow for Fuentes, but his advisory teacher took him under her wing, encouraging him to focus on school.

Although she didn’t share his experience, Ruiz said she showed him great empathy. “She was consistently there,” he said. “It helped to have somebody who seemed to care.”

School became Fuentes’s refuge. He’d leave his house at 6:30 a.m. and not get home until 7:30 p.m. He became a straight-A student involved in myriad after-school activities: National Honors Society, robotics club, lacrosse and cross country.

Though he knew he didn’t have papers or a Social Security number, he didn’t realize what that meant until it came time to apply to college. Again, his advisory teacher was there to help. He ended up going to Whitman College in Washington state on a full-ride scholarship.

He majored in psychology but in his senior year, he began to wonder if it was worth it. Facing life without a work permit, Fuentes had resigned himself to the fact that he’d probably graduate and return to California to work construction alongside his stepfather.

“I felt kind of hopeless because I knew how much my dad was getting underpaid because people know he’s undocumented,” he said.

What he really wanted to do was become a teacher. Teach for America had come to his college on a recruiting trip and Fuentes was intrigued by the idea of changing young people’s lives the way his advisory teacher had changed his.

But that was before DACA, and the organization had never had an undocumented teacher. He remembers being told, “we’re not sure we can take you, but please apply.”

Shortly thereafter, Obama announced the policy. Teach for America accepted Fuentes and placed him at DCIS at Ford, an elementary school in far northeast Denver. In the fall of 2013, Denver was the only city in the country that had agreed to take DACA teachers.

His first ever day of teaching, he shared his story with his students. “I found this quote … ‘Everything is hard before it’s easy.’ I relate it to that quote,” Fuentes says. He tells his students that if they believe they can overcome their obstacles, they will.

Now in his fourth year as a teacher in Denver, Fuentes recently accepted a new job teaching sixth-grade math at KIPP Montbello College Prep middle school. The day after the election, he said he showed up to school with tears in his eyes.

“At the beginning of every class, students were coming up to me and asking if anything was wrong,” he said. “So I figured it was as good a time as any to tell them my story, my fears of losing my job and not being able to stand in front of them and be the teacher I want to be.”

Fuentes said he worries about no longer being able to financially support his parents — he makes more than both of them combined — and about deportation.

On the one hand, Fuentes said he felt uncomfortable sharing his burden with his students. But on the other, he said he was comforted by their words. “It was a lot of, ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Fuentes. We won’t let anybody take you,’” he said.

Fuentes is struggling with what he would do if DACA were repealed. Would it be better to go into hiding? Or to continue speaking out? He said he’s leaning toward the latter.

“We tell our students that if you’re working hard enough and doing the best you possibly can and showing to everyone who you are and what you stand for, life could eventually work out for you,” he said. “And so I guess I’m trying to be an example of that advice I’ve given to my students: Put yourself out there and people will support you.”

•••

As a high school student in Tennessee, Carlos Ruiz wasn’t motivated. He had poor grades and a low ACT score. Knowing that he was undocumented, “I didn’t see the point of it,” he said.

When DACA was announced his freshman year at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, he said it changed his whole outlook. Ruiz applied the very first day possible.

“DACA was an avenue for me to work hard and do what I wanted with that,” he said. “It made me feel in control and empowered.”

Carlos Ruiz. (Photo courtesy Carlos Ruiz)
Carlos Ruiz. (Photo courtesy Carlos Ruiz)

A history major, Ruiz decided he wanted to become a teacher. He said he hoped to convince teenagers who felt as hopeless as he had to stay the course. “You don’t know what’s going to change, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

He applied to Teach for America and was placed at an elementary school in Denver. Realizing his passion lie in working with high school students, Ruiz left the organization. This year, he’s a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel, a charter high school in the northwest part of the city.

His students, the majority of whom are Latino, know his story. Ruiz said it’s a point of solidarity: Even though most of them were born here and are citizens, many have undocumented friends or family members. The day after the election was difficult, he said.

“There was a lot of anxiety in the building,” Ruiz said. But, he added, “as the day went on, I felt better and continue to feel better. I grew up without DACA. DACA is a relatively new development. It’s hard having tasted freedom and knowing it might be taken away. But you have to look at it like, whatever happens, I will be OK.”

Ruiz said he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t searched job websites in Mexico, a country he hasn’t stepped foot in since he was a child. But being undocumented and growing up surrounded by uncertainty about his future has taught him to focus on what he can control and not dwell on the rest — a lesson he hopes to pass on to his students.

“That’s the mentality I’ve reverted to: Hope for the best. Keep on staying level-headed for myself and for my students. And continue to speak about it in an educated way because I sincerely believe that when people hear our stories, they will be supportive and change will come.”