A rabbit, a coyote and a Texas educator help students share their immigration stories

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By Kate Snyder/Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote illustration above courtesy author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh

Undocumented immigrants, deportations and ICE raids targeting students regularly make national headlines. In Texas, the tragic stories of migrants who die while trying to get to the United States or families who are separated because of immigration status are not just stories in headlines, they are real people with the names and faces of friends and family members.

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This has a tremendous impact on the students that Caroline Sweet, a fourth grade dual language teacher at Metz Elementary in Austin, TX, sees in her classroom. Helping students understand the power and value of their personal narrative in shaping perceptions of immigration is one of the reasons she developed an Immigration Thematic Unit for the elementary school level.

“Many of my students or their immediate family members have had border crossing experiences and often these stories are secret. This unit helps the students tell and share their stories in a safe environment. We have the opportunity to hear about and share these experiences and understand how they are a part of the fabric of who we are in the United States,” said Caroline.

Caroline uses the story of Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by the Mexican author Duncan Tonatiuh as a touchstone to introduce the migrant experience to students and help them connect to and discuss their own experience. The story provides an accessible way for students to think about, talk about and make sense of the realities of undocumented immigrants. Students recorded their stories on video for author Tonatiuh at the Texas Book Festival.

Caroline has built and shared the immigration thematic unit with her colleagues and has hosted annual workshops. Education Austin will be hosting two workshops in September and October to train teachers who are interested in using the immigration thematic unit.

“As teachers we know that we often have undocumented students pass through our classrooms, but few stories reflect on their families’ experiences. This unit helps validate the journeys of some of our students and allows for thoughtful reflection from those who have not had a border-crossing experience,” said Caroline.

Given the most recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the current raids targeting immigrant youth, Caroline believes that the lessons in this unit are more important than ever.

People ask me all the time if this isn’t too controversial for students in my fourth grade class. It is not, because this is their reality.

In addition to contributing to culturally inclusive and safe schools, student narratives are an impactful tool in deepening the understanding around the current treatment of our most vulnerable immigrant students.

Reader Comments

  1. Thank you for creating a book we can all use to educate everyone, especially in these times. Raised on a ranch, mostly manned by “braceros”, our family was very aware of the difficulties these “breadwinners” had. Many a time as a child we were awaken by noises and shouting “la migra!” Usually this happened at night. In the morning hearing my parents discussing how to finish the harvest, and where to send wages earned by a field hand. The stories of slavery have been written, filmed and documented and this made me wonder, at that time did anyone think how this affected those children, I presume not as we have learned times were different. I am very proud of you as a teacher also, to have created and made this material available.

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