Immigrants Retain Hope but HOPE is Out of Reach
UGA educators say hope can lead students in Athens, Ga., to continue their education after high school.
University of Georgia education graduate student Jesse Payne spent two hours learning how to become a better teacher for those students who most need help: undocumented residents.
With maybe 100 other people--students, veteran teachers, advocates and families--Payne attended a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon that focused on the problems faced by undocumented students, both in and outside the classroom, in coping with Georgia's immigratino policies. The forum was sponsored by the College of Education Faculty Senate and Dean's Council on Diversity.
Payne heard from three seasoned teachers and one high school counselor from the Clarke County School District and an immigration attorney. They shared their experiences, practices and suggestions for steering students through the winding path to college.
“I learned there are many options for undocumented students,” said Payne, who has come from Kentucky to Athens for a masters in teaching social studies. “I plan to go out of my way to inspire hope when I start teaching.”
Held at the H.T. Edwards educational complex, the forum featured teachers Ian Altman from Clarke Central, Matt Hicks from Cedar Shoals and Kelli Bivins from Coile Middle School; counselor Sam Hicks from Cedar Shoals; and attorney Charles Kuck, of the Immigration Law Firm and the UGA School of Law.
Bivins said she feels guilty for having taken her middle school students to visit the UGA campus to introduce them to college life. Recent legislation prevents undocumented students from attending Georgia’s most selective state institutions, no matter how competent and accomplished they are.
“I dared to allow all of them to dream,” she said.
Ian Altman said to be a teacher for undocumented students “is to be an advocate for them.”
He has written editorials and letters of recommendation; contacted elected officials and Board of Regents members; raised money to cover the costs of college applications; and shared with students their joy and elation at being accepted to colleges outside Georgia.
Matt Hicks gave detailed advice for steering someone with no Social Security number through the tangled thicket of college applications and financial aide applications. More difficult is to keep students in school and motivated to do well if they believe their studying is all for naught.
“Students are facing a system that locks them out,” Hicks said. “You have to remind them constantly that you support them.”
Attorney Kuck hammered away at the nuttiness of current immigration laws, which changed drastically in 1996 by toughening up penalties for being in the U.S. without the proper papers. He believes immigation laws will change again after the election in November.
Teachers should work to get students into college somewhere, “because a college education from the U.S. is gold” in another country, he said. Other English speaking countries, such as Australia and Canada, don’t have the stringent policies of the U.S. and welcome educated workers. And no matter what, teachers have to keep undocumented students focused on going to college.
“What’s worse than a kid without hope?” Kuck asked. “Nothing.”