Education News

Two paths to the State of the Union: a teacher and a DREAMer student

by Félix Pérez

One is a high school English teacher in Beaverton, Ore., whose passion is reducing the overuse of standardized tests. The other, the first in her family to go to college thanks to an executive action by President Barack Obama, will fulfill her dream this May when she earns a bachelor’s degree from a Texas university.

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David Wilkinson and Ana Zamora’s lives could not be more different, except that they now share a once-in-a-lifetime experience neither ever imagined — they were in attendance at last week’s State of the Union.

Wilkinson was there as the guest of his member of Congress, Suzanne Bonamici, who shares Wilkinson’s mission to lessen the use of high-stakes, standardized tests. Zamora, a DREAMer student invited by First Lady Michelle Obama, is benefiting from an executive order by President Obama that allows young aspiring Americans to live, study and work legally in the United States.

David Wilkinson and Cong Bonamici
        U.S. Rep. Bonamici and David Wilkinson

Wilkinson learned about Bonamici’s invitation while at school. His initial reaction? “Can I afford taking a couple days out of my classroom?” Assured his students would be in good hands with an experienced retired teacher and a standout student teacher, he booked the six-hour flight.

Congresswoman Bonamici and Wilkinson made the most of the visit. At a gathering before the State of the Union, Bonamici made it a point to introduce Wilkinson to every member of the House education committee she could buttonhole to discuss the overuse of assessments. “As honored as I was to be chosen to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the thing that was most important to me were my kids and having access to folks who can really make a difference.”

Ana Zamora received her invitation the week before the State of the Union while she was at work. The email on her phone read “URGENT.” It was from the White House.

Zamora, who will graduate this May in business administration from Northwood University in Dallas, never imagined that her letter to President Obama would result in her sitting alongside the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden. In 2012, Zamora was granted temporary relief and work authorization under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. To date, nearly 600,000 DREAMers, young adults who were brought to the United States as children, have been granted temporary legal status.

a zamora 1
            DREAMer Ana Zamora

“My parents brought me to the United States before my first birthday, 20 years ago,” said Zamora in her letter. “As with any other DREAMer, my parents came to this country with a dream of a better future for their children.”

“The United States is my country,” she wrote. “It is where I grew up, took my first steps, learned to read, write, play, graduated from high school, and will graduate from college.”

Educators from across the nation recognize the importance of common-sense immigration reform, said Lily Eskelsen García, an elementary school teacher and president of the National Education Association.

“Educators know from experience that family unity plays a critical role in student success,” said Eskelsen García. Yet a growing number of public school students live in fear that our nation’s immigration policies will break up their families, forcing them to choose between their country and their loved ones. Keeping families together is essential to keeping America strong.”

Wilkinson said he is thankful his visit gave him the opportunity to speak with lawmakers about “bringing sensibility to the crazy overtesting.” He was surprised to have come away from the experience “more hopeful than when I went in.” Nevertheless, Wilkinson is fully aware of the difficult challenge.

If we are truly going to leave no child behind, it’s going to take a level of resources that simply aren’t there now. Instead of beating up on teachers, we need to acknowledge the problem. Failure is simply not an option.

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