Bennet encourages undocumented youth

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, met with immigrant students Friday to hear about their struggles after high school, and to talk about how he hopes to make it easier for them.

Sen. Michael Bennet hears from Denver student Luis Castaneda about what awaits him after graduation from high school this month.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., spoke Friday with undocumented student Luis Castaneda.

Bennet joined 32 other Senate colleagues on May 11 in re-introducing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – commonly known as the DREAM Act.

Go straight to video of Bennet and students.

The bill that would give undocumented students who were brought to this country as children a chance to earn legal status if they graduate from high school, stay out of trouble and complete two years of post-secondary school or military service.

Friday morning, at a park near Denver’s West High School, the former Denver Public Schools superintendent heard first-hand from some of the students who would be impacted by such a bill.

‘I didn’t have a choice’

“I came here when I was 3,” said Luis Castaneda, 18. “I had no other option because my parents wanted a better life for us. I didn’t have a choice.”

“I represent thousands of students … I am undocumented and afraid.”
— Alicia, high school senior

Castaneda, who was born in Mexico City, will graduate from high school later this month and dreams of studying computer science and business. An honors student with a 3.5 GPA, he said he won a scholarship to Regis University but he can’t accept it because of his undocumented status.

So he will enroll at Metropolitan State College or the University of Colorado at Denver in the fall but he’ll have to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which will be a huge financial burden for his family.

“It’s depressing because I’ve come so far,” said Castaneda, the first person in his family to graduate from high school. “My mom and dad are really proud of me but they were never able to really contribute to my education the way they wanted to, because they’re always working to support our family.”

Another girl, who identified herself only as Alicia, told Bennet she would like to pursue a medical career but she isn’t sure how she’ll fund her schooling after she graduates from high school later this month.

“I represent thousands of students who are scared,” she said. “I am undocumented and afraid.”

Victor Galvan, with Longmont Youth for Equality, told Bennet that he’s disappointed President Obama has not done more for immigration reform.

He was blunt in his question for the senator: “What are you gonna do?”

“We’ve been doing our job, and (Obama) has not kept his promise,” Galvan said. “Right now, he’s not the person we expected him to be.”

‘It takes a long time’

Bennett advised Galvan to be patient. He said civil rights struggles sometimes take a long time to bring about results, and immigration reform is no different.

Elements of the DREAM Act

    Eligibility requirements:
  • Come to the U.S. as children, aged 15 or younger
  • Be long-term U.S. residents, continuous physical presence for at least five years
  • Have good moral character
  • Graduate from high school or obtain a GED
  • Complete two years of military service or higher education at a college or vocational school

“It takes a long time sometimes to get these things moving,” he said. “But you’ve got to start someplace. I do think it’s important to build as broad a coalition as possible. There are a lot of people in this country that want this bill passed, and we need to bring them together.”

Bennet also urged the young people – and the community leaders who joined them in Sunken Gardens Park – to persevere.

“I know there’s disappointment that we haven’t gotten it done already,” he said.

An earlier version of the DREAM Act was defeated last year when the Senate was unable to muster the votes to end a Republican filibuster against it. It had already passed the House of Representatives and had the backing of a majority of the Senate.

“We’ve got to keep trying,” Bennet said. “We’re talking about young people that have never known any other country except the United States. We heard from some today who came here when they were two years old or three years old. They didn’t have any role to play in the decision that was made that brought them here. They’ve grown up in the United States, they’ve gone to school, they’ve worked hard and they have no place to go.”

“This is the farthest thing from amnesty you can imagine,” he added. “As a country, we should stop denying ourselves the benefit of the contribution that can be made by people who want to go into computer science or serve in our military, which is one reason that our Secretary of Defense has made one of his highest priorities the passage of the DREAM Act.”

‘This is a fresh start’

In the crowd gathered Friday morning was state Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, a former DPS school board member.

The Colorado General Assembly came to a close on Wednesday, and Guzman was enjoying the freedom to be somewhere other than the Capitol on a sunny Denver morning.

“This is a fresh start,” she said of the re-introduction of the DREAM Act. “And I felt it was important to be here at the starting line.”

Like Bennet in the U.S. Senate, Guzman watched with dismay last month as the ASSET bill, Colorado’s own version of the DREAM Act, was narrowly defeated. The bill passed the state Senate but lost in the state House of Representatives.

Guzman said even if the federal government enacts the DREAM Act, and even if it passes national immigration reform, Colorado will need to address the issues confronting its immigrant students.

“We must be cognizant of what we need at the state level, and sometimes the states need to challenge the federal government,” she said. “We need at the state level to expand these opportunities. But the DREAM Act would be so huge. It would remove a huge obstacle to our kids.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and students discuss the DREAM Act

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.