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Commentary: Keeping the DREAM alive — how to talk to students and what you can do

Guest contributor | March 23, 2017

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Stephanie KozofskyBy Stephanie Kozofsky

On a recent field trip, Paola told me that she has not seen her parents in four years. A senior, Paola has a 3.4 GPA, is on the flag football team and the varsity soccer team, and is taking a college course after school. Her love for this school, her education, and her future shines through everything she does. Not only would she benefit from higher education, but any college would benefit from the persistence, creativity, and passion that she brings into every part of her life. Now, she may not be able to afford college in the fall because her parents are afraid for her to apply for the California DREAM Act scholarship.

For now, it appears that DACA and the California DREAM Act, which make it possible for many children of illegal immigrants in our state to go to high school and ultimately receive financial aid if they go to college in California, are safe. However, there is no guarantee that they will remain so in future federal immigration policy. The fear of deportation among many DREAMers and their parents has resulted in a nearly 60 percent drop in the number of applications for the state DREAM Act. This means that many students like Paola won’t be able to afford college this fall.

It also means that the efforts of parents like Paola’s, who sent her to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, to live with her aunt four years ago so that she could get a better education, will be in vain. The efforts of students like Paola, who are growing up away from their parents and grandparents, will be in vain. The efforts of teachers who work to prepare students and families for the challenges that college brings will be in vain. If students are not applying for the DREAM Act because of fear of deportation or other risks associated with recent federal immigration legislation, what happens to their motivation to succeed in school?

Now more than ever, we need to make students feel safe and safeguard their success no matter what obstacles the government may place in their way. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or friend, here is what you can do to make this happen:

Discuss the Act

Talk to kids and let them know that they are protected by the DREAM Act. Applying for it will not cause the release of their information to immigration agencies; they are protected while they are at secondary school or college because public school sites are a safe haven.

Emphasize College Potential

If they’ve missed the DREAM Act’s application deadline, emphasize the potential of college by looking into other scholarships for which they can apply. Teachers can give extra credit when they do. In my classroom, I am using Facing History’s scholarship prompt as an opportunity for students to make up a missed assignment. By doing this, they are still practicing writing and potentially winning money for college.

Be Civic-Minded

Focus on civic action. Call your state representatives and encourage them to continue to support DACA and the California DREAM Act in order to make college a potential for all of our students.

No one should be allowed to take Paola’s passion and enthusiasm away from her. As a teacher, I believe deeply that all students deserve to choose if they want to go to college or not. We are all responsible for making sure we give them that choice.

Stephanie Kozofsky is a 12th-grade social justice teacher at Valor Academy High School in LAUSD. She is a Teach Plus California Teaching Policy Fellow.

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