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Standing in the Light: Supporting Our Immigrant Students

There's a line that's been stuck in my head for days, now, from the musical Dear Evan Hansen.

In the song "Waving Through the Window," the titular character sings of his social anxiety that he's learned to "step out, step out of the sun if you keep getting burned."

The song always brings up powerful feelings for me. Sure, it hits home because I've had my own personal struggles with panic attacks and generalized anxiety. But more importantly, I can't help think of my students when I hear the song. Doing so makes me well up faster than cutting onions for Sunday night dinner. Where are the times they have stepped out of the light, too afraid to be seen? 

This has especially hit home in the past few weeks, as we hear more and more about ICE raids and numerous safety concerns for our immigrant students. Over the past few weeks, the flurry of raids has led to multiple reports of students feeling unsafe in their schools (via NPR, The Atlantic, Romper). Students are understandably concerned for their safety and the safety of their families. 

I remember this fear vividly because I saw it often in the faces of my students during my first two years in the classroom. In journals and eventually notes they would leave on my desk, my kids would reveal that they or their family members were undocumented, that they did not know what would happen if they were ever discovered, that they did not think they could go to college. They mentioned that, some days, this fear for their safety and security in their own homes was the black pit that ate at them throughout the entire day.

We must work to provide our students with spaces where they can safely share their concerns, know they are loved and affirm their value in a time where our government, unfortunately, causes them to question it. Beyond policy, our students should not be made to sit in a classroom that makes them fear for their safety on a daily basis.  

As we head into March, I encourage teachers to look at both Teaching Tolerance's Guide for Educators regarding Immigrant and Refugee Children as well checking out Perspectives for a Diverse America to find activities and texts regarding immigration. For those of us, like myself, who teach in schools where this may have less of a direct effect on students or students have less exposure to these issues, I recommend their "Immigration Myths Lesson Plan."

We can't directly, in this moment, control immigration policy or the media surrounding it. Beyond our own beliefs, though, our students must be able to find love and security in our classrooms. Of all the places where they feel like they have to hide themselves, our classrooms should be a place where they can shed their fearful cloaks, step into the light, and see us welcoming them with open arms.

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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