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Eastern Presents Education, Advocacy and Immigrant Youth Discussion

Published on April 11, 2018

Eastern Presents Education, Advocacy and Immigrant Youth Discussion

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted “Education, Advocacy and Immigrant Youth,” a discussion about supporting the educational aspirations of newly arrived immigrant students, in the Betty R. Tipton Room on April 4. The event was cosponsored by the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford.

The event featured a panel of experts including Kathryn Meyer, director of SpeakUp Initiatives, and Sue Tenorio, educational consultant, both from the Center for Children’s Advocacy. Keynote speaker and law student Denia Perez, Ken Nienhusser from the University of Hartford and Andrea Spencer of the University of St. Joseph were also featured speakers.

Panelists discussed proactive approaches to support the achievements of new arrivals in schools, barriers to their achievements and community organizational efforts.

During her opening remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez said, “There are millions of people today who want the same opportunity but fear the uncertainty of deportation, imprisonment and separation from their families. I am proud to tell you that Eastern continues to be a national leader in supporting undocumented students. We have more than 100 ‘Dreamers’ on our campus, supported by a private foundation, Opportunity Scholars, located in Washington, DC. The Dreamers’ educations are being fully funded by TheDream.US foundation. They have earned their passage—these are hardworking students with a cumulative 3.5 GPA on this campus. They have become student leaders as they are preparing for careers as doctors, scientists, lawyers, accountants and teachers. No school in America has more Opportunity Scholars than Eastern.”

As moderator and coordinator of the event, Professor of Social Work Isabel Logan, welcomed and introduced important questions for the panelists to address.

“There is a need to improve parents’ ability to advocate for their children’s educational needs. Schools must improve in terms of identity for English Language Learners, inform parents in their native language, provide ESL or bilingual courses and continually evaluate student progress,” said Meyer.

Tenorio emphasized the challenges that immigrant parents and their children face navigating the educational system, calling it “a maze,” especially in terms of language barriers.

In her presentation, “From Aspirations to Achievement,” Perez discussed the challenges she faced as a youth fighting deportation and issues she encountered pursuing her education in California. She credited supporters who helped her during her educational journey and encouraged others to “not only pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but to seek support from their communities. Study history, but also write your own.” She is currently concluding her studies at the Quinnipiac School of Law.

“We have a long way to go,” said Nienhusser, a professor of educational leadership. “We must reframe our values and the existence of discriminatory policies in education that have affected deserving students solely based on their immigration status. We need to eradicate these policies and stop treating undocumented students as undeserving and villainous.”

Spencer discussed what she called the three best practices which she said schools need to focus on—recognition, relationships and resources. “Teachers need to collaborate and think about how they deal with the immigrant challenges these students bring to the classroom including rethinking curriculum, encouraging teachers to form closer relationships with students and providing them with improved bicultural language and activity opportunities.”

Barbara Lopez of Make the Road CT and Stefan Keller of CT Students for a Dream, both representatives of nonprofit groups that work in communities such as Bridgeport and Hartford, spoke about their respective community-based efforts and challenges immigrants encounter in communities that have large number of undocumented residents.

Written by Anne Pappalardo

Categories: Continuing Studies