JoBeth Allen is a professor in the University of Georgia Department of Language and Literacy Education. She sent me an essay about the plight of undocumented students and the role that educators ought to play.
Here is Dr. Allen’s essay:
By JoBeth Allen
Gabrielle is a National Honors Society student whose goal is to be a translator at the United Nations. She speaks three languages, passed seven Advanced Placement courses, and leads her section in the youth symphony. Her parents work long hours and depend on her to take care of her younger siblings after school.
While her family came to the U.S. legally on work visas when Gabrielle was a baby, they have not been able to become citizens.
Gabrielle is undocumented.
Like thousands of students throughout Georgia, Gabrielle will be affected by the Barack Obama administration’s announcement that ends deporting undocumented immigrants ages 16-30 brought to the U.S. as children. Georgia’s teachers, counselors and administrators play a critical role in the lives of undocumented students.
In turn, colleges of education are responsible for the pre-service and in-service development for these professionals. Georgia’s colleges of education must provide leadership in addressing educational issues surrounding students who are undocumented. There is a legitimate academic and civic interest in researching how best to aid undocumented students and in helping university students prepare for teaching and counseling them.
I teach in the College of Education at the University of Georgia. Our responsibility is to provide the best possible education for all children in Georgia. We work with teachers, parents, and school systems to provide that opportunity. We educate and support teachers, counselors, administrators and other dedicated professionals as they address needs and develop talents of all students in this nation of immigrants, whether they are first generation or many generations past.
Research shows learning occurs when students feel included in a positive, safe and supportive environment. Students may be teased or bullied if others know their immigration status. Counselors work closely with students as they deal with these and other aspects of limited opportunities: inability to register for courses like Work Based Learning or do service learning projects without a Social Security number, inability to park on school campus without a driver’s license, and limitations regarding college admissions.
Undocumented students may not be able to attend the college of their choice, especially if that choice is one of the universities in Georgia where they are banned. Their teachers and counselors spend hours writing letters of recommendation for admission and scholarships to out-of-state colleges, guiding students in writing admission essays and helping them prepare for the rigorous subject-area tests required at some prestigious colleges. One high school teacher and his students created a 40-page booklet to assist undocumented students in applying for scholarships to colleges.
Do colleges of education also have a role in facilitating public dialogue about education and immigration issues? I believe we do. Some faculty members in my college of education, and in other Georgia colleges and universities, invite such experienced k-12 educators to speak to our classes to share students’ stories, as well as their roles in supporting students who are undocumented. We sponsored a public forum where six high school students like Gabrielle spoke about their dreams of college, how they’ve studied hard to realize those dreams, and how their teachers and counselors are helping them navigate a society that does not welcome them. While these forums generated controversy, public dialogue is essential to understanding immigration and education issues.
Clearly, colleges of education play a critical role in researching immigration issues, in examining policy on immigration and education, and in preparing educators to teach students who are undocumented, students like Gabrielle who will attend a prestigious university in the northeast on a full scholarship this fall.
In a related note: There is a panel discussion Thursday on the legal, political, and ethical implications of President Obama’s new policy regarding undocumented youth. The panel will include DREAMers from Freedom University (including one recent Clarke Central graduate who will be attending Syracuse this fall), UGA’s Director of Immigration Services Robin Catmur, Clarke Central High School English Department Chair Ian Altman, Freedom University faculty member Lorgia Garcia-Pena, and immigration attorney Charles Kuck. The panel will be at the Coverdell Center on UGA’s South Campus near the Coliseum and Vet School in Room 175 at 6 p.m.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog