Safe Passage Project Volunteer of the Week
David Lenzner is a Spanish Teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) and a volunteer with the Safe Passage Project. David has been teaching for six years, including four years as a Spanish/English teacher at WHEELS. He began teaching at Teach for America and then taught a bilingual math class at the James M. Kieran School in the Bronx.
David became involved with Safe Passage Project in October of 2012, through his friendship with Safe Passage Fellow, Guillermo Stampur (Gui). “We grew up together on the ball fields of New York City”. Students and their Spanish-speaking families feel comfortable discussing their immigration issues with David. Through the years, David has found that the students’ families tend to be less receptive until they meet the members of the Safe Passage Project. “Once they meet the Safe Passage folks, they gain confidence that Safe Passage will do everything in their power to advocate on behalf of their children”
Through David and his tireless advocacy, Safe Passage is able to directly communicate with the students. In an effort to assist students, David goes to his students’ classrooms and makes announcements informing students that if they plan on applying for college in the future, they would need certain information/documents, including a social security number. As a result, several students have approached him and the school’s social worker, Amy Wylegala, to discuss their legal status. Many students have qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), Special Immigration Juvenile Status Visa (SIJS), and other forms of Immigration relief. Thanks to David’s hard work and the work of Safe Passage, a few students have alrady been granted permanent residency.
For David, a student’s success does not only depend on how many hours the teacher is able to put in. There are several outside factors that affect a student’s success, including housing and lack of food issues. If the child is undocumented and their immigration status is not resolved, the student may reach their senior year and hide in the shadows. Many get depressed, act out, and start considering other alternatives to college. Obtaining status allows a weight to be lifted from the family. It gives them hope. Having their legal status taken care of, makes the student a more complete individual.
There are a lot of people in the community that can help make the students successful. To really provide support for a child, you need social workers and teachers to support the children in school, and outside of school, you need the lawyers assistance. Safe Passage provides students with a different outlook on life and provides them new, unique opportunities.
Over the summer, David volunteered with Safe Passage as a translator. In addition to working with Safe Passage, David has also worked with African Legal Services and the Door. On his free time, David likes to play sports, hang out with his friends, and travel. Some of his favorite places include Cuba and Uruguay – he loves Uruguayan Mate.
***Safe Passage Advocate of the Week Feature written by NYLS Student and Safe Passage volunteer, Luisa Lebron