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We’ve got their backs

5/03/2017
President Trump’s sweeping immigration policies are causing fear and anxiety for students and their families nationwide. Here in Illinois, IFT members are supporting and protecting them through inspiring efforts like this one from the Champaign Federation of Teachers, Local 1925.

We’ve got their backs
By Jen White, Teacher and President of the Champaign Federation of Teachers, Local 1925 and Maria Alanis, Unit 4 Director of ESL/Bilingual Education

White.AlanisTWS

Champaign CUSD #4 is one of the most diverse districts in Illinois. Many of the students we serve every day speak a non-English language at home or are learning English as a second (or third) language. Nearly 20 percent speak a language other than English. In fact, our students speak more than 70 languages!
 
Many of these students have not known anything else but life in Champaign, either because they were born here or because they arrived in our community at such a young age. Champaign is where they live and go to school. This is their home.
 
That’s why last December, while still reeling from the results of the presidential election, Local 1925 was inspired by a guidebook from the AFT called “Immigrant and Refugee Children.” We already knew we wanted to do something to ease the anxiety so many of our students and parents were facing, but were unsure how to have the greatest impact.
 
We decided, as part of our local’s participation in the January 19th AROS Day of Action, to approach our district about partnering with the ESL/Bilingual Education department to offer a workshop based on the AFT guide. We wanted to show that we are unafraid educators and to help all staff understand the rights of our immigrant and undocumented students. By empowering the staff to take what they learned back to their buildings, they could take the next step by creating custom events in their schools to educate staff, students, and families. We used the Day of Action to kick off advertising our event.
 
After surveying interested participants, we decided to focus the workshop on a few key topics, including immigration laws and policies, what you can do to help, what to do if there is an ICE raid, and DACA/multi-status families. During the workshop, staff were given time to digest the information in the book, dialogue with colleagues, ask questions, and plan events for their schools. We also offered to support school events by providing translators, financial support, educational materials, or anything else they might need.

Unafraid Educator Poster
 
The result? Participants walked away with new knowledge, resources, “Unafraid Educator” posters, and plans in place for school-based events. The reaction to the first workshop was so positive that we ended up opening two additional dates!
 
Our students are very important to us. In the current political climate, we’re proud that our teachers and our district have closed ranks and rallied around students who are living in fear and uncertainty.
 
The future is unknown, but there is no doubt that the teachers in Unit 4 will do what it takes to make sure that students feel welcome, safe, and unafraid in school. We are removing obstacles and pushing back the dark clouds of intolerance. Most importantly, we are reassuring students that there is hope and they are not alone. As educators and school staff, we’ve got their backs.

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