Help keep the DREAM alive for our students

The following post was written by Diana Zuckerman,  a Spanish teacher and  member of the Rondout Valley FT and SRPs,  She is editor of her union’s newsletter and serves as the Advocacy Chair for the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers.

How many of you are Irish? Italian? German? Dominican? How many of you were born in another country? Or have a father or mother from another country? Grandparents? Great grandparents? In the United States, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, except for the people who are 100 percent native American, and they are few.

As educators it is part of our job to educate all of our students equally, regardless of where they come from. All of our students deserve the right to a complete and adequate education that will enrich their lives and enhance our society and communities. So why is it that the American dream ends for some of our students when they graduate high school? For them, the opportunity for higher education is still just a dream and cannot easily become a reality because they do not have access to college financial aid. It is up to us to speak up and speak out so all of our students have the opportunity to achieve the American dream.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, of the more than 4,500 undocumented students who graduate from New York high schools every year, only 5-10 percent pursue a college degree due to tremendous financial obstacles.

Newburgh Free Academy High School students, from left, David Fernandez, Mario Pineda, Kim Fernandez and Ana Campos shared stories about undocumented students.

Four immigrant students and advocates spoke last spring to Rondout Valley High School and Middle School students. They showed their moving, student-created documentary, “DREAMers Among US,” that focuses on the real-life experiences of being an undocumented student in the U.S. They shared their stories of broken dreams.

“Many people in our country face immigration issues and the Dreamers’ documentary was an opportunity to identify, acknowledge, inform, and inspire our Rondout students,” said high school English teacher Judith Schneller.

The film sparked many animated discussions and deep reflection among students, teachers and community members.

“It is important to bring other people into our school. We’re very sheltered as teenagers as to what’s really going on in the real world, so to hear someone talk about and discuss it is a great learning experience,” said ninth-grader Katelyn Perry.

Joshua Dingman, also a nine-grader, said the country must “erase whatever stigma that has been placed on these students. Being in the auditorium, listening to those kids’ stories, there is definitely discrimination on them and it needs to stop.”

Passage of the NY DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) could make those students’ dreams possible and would be a step toward ending the discrimination. It would allow undocumented students who have resided in New York state for at least two years and graduated from high school to apply for aid from the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

“It is time to rise above the status quo, above politics, and allow our undocumented college students to receive state financial assistance so they can succeed,” said state Sen. Jose Peralta, a sponsor of the bill. The state Assembly has already passed the bill, but it remains stalled in the Senate.  “I don’t want our college students to keep losing out because we are playing politics. They deserve to follow the American Dream, and we should not keep crushing their dreams and aspirations,” Peralta said.

“Passing the DREAM Act is crucial and very important, and it is not only socially just and fair, but also economically. The bill to provide aid to children of immigrants would cost taxpayers between $20 million and $27 million, but the average college graduate pays about $4,000 in state taxes every year,” Peralta said. “In other words, the DREAM Act would pay for itself. The average taxpayer cost to have the DREAM Act become a reality is 87 cents. Yes, 87 cents.”

We need to make a difference for our students. To show a screening of the documentary “DREAMers Among US” at your school, please contact Katia Chapman from the Rural and Migrant Ministry at hudsondreamers@gmail.com or (845) 485-8627. For more information on the NY DREAM Act, go to nydreamact.org. Let’s all be a part of making our students’ dreams a reality.

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