OPINION: APS “Newcomer Education Program” Does Not Represent Affected Communities

By: Selene Vences / NM Dream Team

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – On Monday, the New Mexico Dream Team, alongside a number of community partners, held a press conference to demand Albuquerque Public Schools include input from the undocumented and refugee communities in the creation of their “Newcomer Education Program”.

The program, which is set to begin this fall, does not meet the needs of immigrant and refugee students.

Over the last year, I have met with students in small groups, and on an individual basis to assess their needs in their educational journey. Many DACAmented, undocumented, and mix status students in our state are low-income, first generation students of color.

Time and time again, I have heard from middle and high school students that they do not feel welcomed, and at times safe in their classroom. Some of these students have faced prejudices and discrimination by their own peers and teachers.

In one instance, a student told me that when they were wrongfully removed from their advanced math class when the teacher found out that they were also in an ESL – English Second Language –  class simply because of the prejudice held by the teacher.

“All the students that are coming to the United States are coming from different continents and backgrounds,” stated Michelle Soto during Monday’s conference, a senior at an APS high school. “That is why it is important that students get the help and support they need from people who understand their stories, their struggles, and their fears.”

Soto migrated to the country when she was only nine years old.  When she began school, Soto recalls being placed on a computer to play “educational games” because her teacher was not willing to take the time to help her learn English.

“This is still  happening today with the refugees and immigrants arriving to the country,” Soto said, “My High School is the second high school with the highest number of refugees. We immigrants and refugees are not getting the assistance we need to succeed.”

Can you image coming to the country and running away from violence and poverty just to be ignored, isolated, and marginalized in a place that is supposed to teach you and make you feel safe and welcomed?

Students who are recent arrivals to the country, as well as those who have been here for some time, fear deportation and family separation. Additionally, these students are facing institutional, linguistic, and economic barriers that are not being addressed during their educational years.

These adversities are having a negative effect on the mental health of the students under these intersectionalities.

Studies show that 22% of Latino students have high depression symptoms. This is the highest percentage amongst any other population.

Additionally, 33% of students reported feelings of sadness and hopelessness, again, the highest percentage amongst the populations surveyed.

The same study found that teachers play an important role in the overall well being of the student. Thus, it is important that our schools and teachers be able to provide a compassionate and safe environment for all students, regardless of immigration status.

This is why it is important to have the students and the communities voices heard when creating APS’s Newcomer Education Program. This program would only serve students from K-6th grade, leaving middle and high school students to fend for themselves.

It is important that APS be held accountable for their actions and work with the community to implement a program that is includes transportation, and services for all students k-12.

Our students deserve to have equity in their education, for this reason we are demanding for APS to work with community members and youth to create a newcomer program that is inclusive of their needs.

Without inclusivity and accountability for their needs, students under these intersectionalities will continue to face institutional and societal rejection most likely resulting in dropping out of school all together.

Selene Vences is the Education Justice Coordinator for the NM Dream Team.