I am currently 34,000 feet over Colorado on a flight home from one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Over the past four days I have gotten to represent Pennsylvania teachers as I learned with, and from, fellow 2018 State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) from around the country.
One of those teachers is Ivonne Orozco, the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year. Like the others in our class, she is an outstanding teacher, dedicated to providing her students everything they need to be successful.
Unlike the others in our class, she was brought to the United States as an undocumented immigrant as a 12-year-old child. Like 9,000 other American teachers, she is currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
With the DACA program in jeopardy, so is Ivonne’s place as a role model and leader in our country.
Like the vast majority of Americans, I believe that the 800,000 people protected by DACA—all of whom pay taxes, have never committed a crime, and are contributing members of communities across the country—should not be used as a political bargaining chip. Congress should pass comprehensive legislation that protects their status.
Until this week, I didn’t truly understand how vital this legal protection is to the future of our country.
On Thursday, Ivonne and I joined about a dozen STOYs visiting Boynton High School to learn about the Educators Rising Program they are implementing. Through this, students who are juniors and seniors in high school have the opportunity to take classes that help them learn about careers in education.
Educators Rising is helping to overcome a national teacher shortage crisis and a severe lack of diversity in our teaching force by encouraging students from all backgrounds to learn the aspects of teaching that are lost on the general public—both the behind-the-scenes tasks and the joy that comes from helping others achieve their potential.
At the end of our visit, those enrolled in the Educators Rising Program were given the opportunity to ask questions of the teachers who were visiting. During this time, Ivonne spoke to the group about the power they held to make a difference in the lives of others.
There were tears in the eyes of many of the students. Ivonne had managed in a few short sentences to make each of them believe that they held the power within themselves to create a better future for themselves, their future students, their communities, and our country.
She made them believe that they mattered, regardless of their background or the obstacles in their lives. She made them believe that they held within themselves a power to affect positive change.
I know from their faces that she convinced them that serving others, by teaching or other means, will make their lives more meaningful and our world a little better.
America needs Ivonne Orozco and others like her. At a time when Americans seem to increasingly struggle to understand each other and treat each other with civility, Ivonne radiates compassion.
Every one of us in that room—the school staff, the State Teachers of the Year who were visiting, and the students who were asking questions—is better for having been part of that discussion with Ivonne.
She is just one of 800,000 protected by DACA who is currently worrying that they will be uprooted from their communities, their jobs, and their schools.
If our lawmakers have a tenth of Ivonne’s compassion, they will find a legislative solution to this issue.
If they have an ounce of common sense, they will see that America is better served by keeping and developing more people like Ivonne, not sending them to other places.