corps values

After welcoming almost 150 undocumented teachers, Teach for America starts planning for a Trump reality

PHOTO: TFA
Teach For America's DACAmented corps at its 2016 convening

Among the many people in America reeling from today’s presidential election results: The 146 Teach For America teachers who work in classrooms across the country but are not documented citizens.

Teach For America deliberately created this corps over the last three years — the work largely of one woman, Viridiana Carrizales, whose day today became a worst-case scenario she’d first charted over the summer.

Like many Americans across the political spectrum, Carrizales did not expect Donald Trump to become president. And like many immigrants, she hoped that he would not. But months ago, she began planning for what Teach For America — the national organization that recruits and trains teachers for schools serving poor students — could do if he did.

Her plan, which she expects to introduce to corps members this week, outlines responses to Trump’s vow to immediately end DACA, the Obama administration program that allows young adults who came to this country illegally as children to temporarily live and work without fear of deportation. Efforts could include helping Teach For America teachers relocate to be closer to their families and working with school districts to navigate tricky immigration waters, she said.

“I was hoping never to use this plan, but I knew we had to prepare,” Carrizales said. “I’m so glad that we did. Back in the summer I had a little bit of a clearer mind.”

Teach For America first got involved in immigration policy in 2012, when the organization lobbied for the DREAM Act, which would have created a path toward citizenship for people who came to the country illegally as children.

That bill failed, leaving Teach For America’s leadership and members deeply disappointed. “We knew that all children meant all children,” Carrizales said — and the group could not achieve its mission of helping every student succeed if large numbers of immigrant students could never go to college.

So when DACA became an option in 2014, Teach For America quickly lined up resources to help aspiring teachers go through the onerous and expensive approval process. The DACAmented corps went from two teachers in Denver to 146 across the country today, from 37 different nations.

Their status is weighing heavily on Teach For America’s top executive, Elisa Villanueva Beard. “When the executive order came for DACA for the first time, they walked the streets with their heads up and not hiding in the shadows,” she said. “And now with this, it’s a question. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But they’re terrified for their lives and for their families and for their security.”

Like the majority of Teach For America teachers, DACAmented members have undocumented students in their classes. They discuss the issues that they share in a private Facebook group and, once a year, when they all come together in person. And this past summer, the group members taught more than 3,000 new teachers about the challenges facing undocumented students.

Those are issues that Carrizales knows well — she came with her family from Mexico illegally herself, when she was 12. After graduating from college in 2010, she considered joining Teach For America before realizing she would not be able to work legally. Instead, she spent three years working as a babysitter and doing odd jobs before marrying a U.S. citizen.

Now, she is safe from changes to immigration policy. But she has family members who remain in the country illegally, and she worries about the 146 DACAmented teachers and their families as well.

Late Tuesday, DACAmented’s Facebook group buzzed as members shared their sadness and fear. One reported crying from the floor of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s election party in New York City.

“Many of them decided not to go to school because they didn’t know what to tell their kids today,” Carrizales said. “So many of them just had no more strength.”

But she said she also heard from one teacher who forced herself to go to school because she worried that her students’ fears might be stronger than her own. And on Facebook, DACAmented teachers laid bare the resilience that Teach For America famously values.

“I am so hurt by this election,” one teacher wrote. “But I know we will come through this stronger. We have to, we have to.”

Teens Take Charge

New York City students and podcasters team up to share stories of inequity in schools

PHOTO: Brett Rawson
Teens Take Charge is a student-led organization that hopes to spark change in schools.

If you ask Sherard Stephens, a senior at Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx, there are two different types of schools in New York City: There are schools where resources are plentiful and students feel challenged academically. But there are dozens of others that barely provide the basics, and those largely cater to black, Hispanic and poor students.

Stephens and other students like him think it’s time to talk about that, which is why they’ve launched Teens Take Charge. The new group, which includes students from almost every borough, wants to give young people a voice when it comes to issues they know well: what goes on in their own schools.

“It’s all about us talking about the fact that we don’t have the resources to reach the same level of success,” he said.

On Friday, Teens Take Charge will host their first event at the Bronx Library Center. Through letters, storytelling and poetry, students will tackle issues such as segregation and standardized testing. They hope their stories, along with student-moderated discussions, will spark change within their schools.

Called “To Whom it Should Concern,” the event will also feature art work and a photo booth, and will be completely led by students. But they’ve had help along the way from Handwritten, an organization that focuses on the art of writing by hand, along with The Bell, a new podcast created by Taylor McGraw and Adrian Uribarri to highlight student voices.

McGraw teaches writing at Achievement First University Prep High School in Brooklyn and Uribarri works in communications. Their podcast, which launched this month, focuses on school segregation in New York City — more than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that separate schools for black and white students are inherently unequal.

The podcast was inspired by just a few lines in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion in that case, in which he wrote that segregation “generates a feeling of inferiority” for minority students “that may affect their hearts and minds.”

McGraw wanted to explore the impact that segregation has on students by letting them speak for themselves.

“I want to know: How does it make them think about themselves? How does it make them think about society and their place in it? And then, what’s their response to it?” McGraw said. “So many of the other inequities that we talk about and hear about stem from segregation.”

He hopes to share clips from Friday’s event in an upcoming podcast episode.

For more information about To Whom it Should Concern, click here. To listen to the first episode of The Bell or read more about Teens Take Charge, click here.

First Person

How I stopped wishing for ‘seventh-period flu’ and came to love my first year teaching

PHOTO: Richard Delmendo
The author, Autumn Jones, in her classroom.

Ubaldo and I had a rough start.

Ubaldo is a lanky eighth-grade boy. He prides himself on baseball, basketball and disrupting classes.

He also refused to do any work in my journalism class. He ditched one day, was tardy the next two. He asked to go to the bathroom constantly. We went up the “discipline ladder” daily.

I struggled big time with Ubaldo and his entire class. We dealt with plagiarism, disruptions, and an overall lack of participation. In anything. At all. I started calling them my “dead fish” class. Actually, I think dead fish would have been better.

Every day, I walked out of that class defeated. I thought about finding a weeks-long movie and playing it for the rest of class. I desperately wanted to come down with the seventh-period flu.

One morning, Ubaldo was due in my room for a follow-up conversation about his latest blowup. He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes when I asked him what was going on in class. The only thing he could land on was that he was bored and didn’t want to be a journalist. He wanted to be in gym.

At that point, I stopped. I turned the conversation to my initial stories as a writer. I pulled up the first list of obituaries I wrote for the Gonzaga Quarterly (now Gonzaga Magazine) and I showed him those short little blurbs  —  someone’s name, date of birth, date of death, location and not a whole lot else. They weren’t the most exciting thing to write, I told him, but they helped me learn the structure of storytelling and AP Style.

Next, I pulled up some feature obituaries  —  stories that told more about a person’s life, their family, their hobbies, their impact on the world  —  at which point Ubaldo said, “You only wrote stories about dead people?”

After we both laughed, I told him, “No, but this is how I got my start as a writer.”

We went on to have a conversation about how things start out  —  in sports, in academics and in life  —  and how those things, like the first obituaries, provide the structure we can later expand from. I told him that we have to know the rules before we can break them. He liked that part.

We had a much longer conversation that morning. We didn’t spend much time on his outburst in class the day before. Instead, we talked about his pending high school acceptance, his family and his fears of being deported. His sister, a senior in high school, is a part of the government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In the current climate, that feels like it poses a huge risk for their entire family. He is afraid. Many of his friends are, too.

At the time, Ubaldo didn’t know where he was going to high school. (Denver allows students to apply to their choice of high school.) Getting into a good high school could be the ticket to higher education and a ticket to a better life for himself and his family. At 13 years old, Ubaldo faces far more uncertainty in his daily life than many of us face in the entirety of life.

That conversation changed how I approached my classroom. Ubaldo wasn’t causing chaos out of spite. Quite the opposite actually. Ubaldo, like every other student at my school, needs someone to listen, someone to care, someone to respond to the difficulties he is facing.

I wish I could say that particular classroom dynamic got better overnight. Or that, in an instant, some of my kids decided they were going to be journalists in their future careers. That didn’t happen.

It was a struggle until the end with that class, but Ubaldo bought in. More importantly, I bought in, too.

I showed up and I continued to teach. I pumped that class full of goofy activities and relationship-building exercises, despite the eye rolls. I shared more of my life story, even when it felt like there wasn’t an ounce of empathy anywhere in those four walls.

I now have a new group of seventh and eighth graders in my journalism class, a group that is talkative, friendly, excited and enthusiastic about the material and each other. That’s given me another insight: There are students  —  maybe entire classes  —  who are not going to love the content of my classes. There are also students who are going to buy in to such an extent you can see them working in media production, coding the next great news website or becoming a future New York Times columnist.

Regardless, my classroom will regularly be a space where preteens are looking for affirmation, assurance and love. That I can give.

A few weeks ago, in front of about 200 families, teachers and kids, Ubaldo presented a sports broadcast video he created for my class. He was one of two students to select the most difficult option for a project-based learning assignment. And Ubaldo got into one of the best high schools in Denver.

I know it doesn’t always work out that way. Not everyone gets to experience such a quick turnaround in behavior, attitude or academics. But it did this time, and, whether it happens one or 100 more times, it’s what will keep me coming back to the classroom.

Autumn Jones is a teacher at Marie L. Greenwood Academy, a 1st-8th grade school in Denver Public Schools where she teaches journalism, digital media and online safety. She previously worked in marketing, public relations and journalism and volunteered with CU Boulder’s Public Achievement program.