Editorial by NYC Public School Teacher

Safe Passage, June 20, 2013

Written by David L, a New York City Public School Teacher

My name is David L, and I am a teacher at a 6-12 public school in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City; a predominantly immigrant area of the city. Over the past year, we have been working with the lawyers from the Safe Passage Project in order to better secure our students’ futures. The lawyers from Safe Passage work hand-in-hand with our school social workers and teachers to comprehensively address the legal needs of the innocent and promising students of our school.

Beginning in 6th grade, we begin to discuss our school’s mission; we strive to give each and every one of our students the opportunity to attend and succeed at a top university of his or her choice. Over the course of the next seven years, our students visit colleges and universities in and outside New York City. In 9th grade, we bring the entire grade on an overnight college trip to visit campuses in the Pennsylvania area. In 10th and 11th grade we make various trips to expose our students to distinct university settings in Boston, upstate New York and Connecticut. However, no matter how good a student’s grades, the financial burden is overwhelming at first. This financial challenge is further exasperated for our undocumented students by the fact that they have no legal status and thus cannot apply for any public financial aid. In other words, while we spend years preparing them for college, the undocumented students simply watch their peers move forward knowing that their own educational future, regardless of grades and effort, might come to an end after 12th grade due to circumstances entirely out of their control. The Safe Passage Project has been instrumental in giving these students hope and a newfound confidence in both their academic and social life.

In particular, fifteen months ago, one 9th grader was given the opportunity to participate in an academic exchange in the Dominican Republic. This student started here at my school in 6th grade. For years he had severe behavioral problems motivated by a lack of self-confidence and episodes of depression resulting in part from the fact that he was undocumented. When presented with the opportunity to participate in the all-expenses paid academic exchange, he immediately became disruptive in class to the point where he needed to be suspended. This student later admitted that despite his growth over the years, he could not go on the trip because he lacked the appropriate identification and could not fly; he sabotaged the opportunity and his own success because of the fear he had of being discovered as an undocumented student.

Fifteen months later, due entirely to the help of Safe Passage lawyers, this student is the first scholar from my school to receive his permanent residency. For the first time in his life, he has a legal guardian in the United States, a passport, green card, residency and a future in college secured by the fact that he can finally apply for federal financial aid. More importantly, for the first time in his life he has a newfound self-confidence and belonging; he no longer has to hide in the shadows of his community. Just last week, we met with Guillermo Stampur from the Safe Passage Project to discuss his academic progress, internship opportunities and his college aspirations as he enters his senior year. This student is just one of over twenty students that the Safe Passage Project is supporting.

The Safe Passage Project is a lifeline for many of our students. As an educational community that aims to secure the opportunity to attend and succeed at a college of each student’s choice, we need the help, guidance and collaborative effort of the Safe Passage Project lawyers. As we work together as a team, we can finally serve the needs of ALL of our students, documented and undocumented alike.

–          David L.

New York City Public School Teacher