With ongoing uncertainty regarding the renewal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Graduate School of Education hosted a panel focused on ways to support undocumented students in K-12 schools on Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking to a crowd of current and aspiring educators, panelists highlighted the important role schools play in the lives of undocumented students. The panel was part of a larger series called “DACA Seminar” being held at Harvard over the course of this semester.
Everyone on the panel had a stake in the debate on immigration reform, many having experienced growing up undocumented and all being outspoken advocates for the undocumented community. Panelists expressed concern over the lack of knowledge schools have when it comes to supporting undocumented students.
“Out of the undocumented people in my life, 95 percent of us found out we were undocumented in school,” said Jin K. Park ’18, one of the event’s speakers.
Park said he was fortunate enough to have a high school counsellor who helped him through the DACA process so that he could apply to colleges. For many undocumented students, though, schools are not as supportive or informed.
Astou Thiane, a middle school teacher and member of Teach for America, said many teachers “don’t know what their roles are” and are unaware of the laws put in place to protect undocumented students.
The uncertain fate of DACA affects many teachers and school staff as well as students. “There are thousands of DACAmented teachers in our public school systems today,” Roberto G. Gonzales, a GSE professor and moderator of the panel, said.
In addition to the importance of educators having the knowledge to assist undocumented students, the panel also emphasized the need to counter harmful immigration narratives in schools.
Luis Ortega, one of the panelists and founder of the activist organization Storytellers for Change, shared his experience about being an undocumented student.
“I was told that someone like me doesn’t go to college,” he said.
Other panelists shared similar stories about facing discouragement while in K-12 school. Viridiana Carrizales, the Managing Director of DACA Corps Member Support at Teach For America, cited a high dropout rate for undocumented students, beginning as early as late elementary school.
“Students are asking themselves ‘Why does it matter? Why should I try harder in school if there is nothing for me?,’” Carrizales said.
For Park, being on DACA also meant constant pressure to be high-achieving and thus “deserving of America.” Other panelists spoke similarly about the problem of tying value to achievement.
“As long as we are willing to say that some students are more worthy than others, we will always have a failing education system,” Ortega said.
This semester’s DACA Seminar program comes in the midst of a series of other recent events focused on immigration and DACA at the University, including a student conference, a number of protests, and other panel discussions.