Throughout my life, I’ve been guided by a particular quotation from the novelist Paulo Coelho, who wrote of the imperative to recognize the need to act when life “sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change.” While I have long been familiar with the Minnesota Dream Act, also known as the Minnesota Prosperity Act, I was – like countless of my fellow citizens – indifferent on the issue, convinced that I held no stake in the outcome of the bill. But a recent experience as an educator in the Minnesota public school system has caused me to recognize that this is one of those moments: a challenge, and a test of my courage and willingness to change.
For a 24-year veteran educator, there is nothing more fulfilling than teaching my students to work hard, overcome obstacles and achieve what’s ahead of them. And for an educator, there is nothing more demoralizing than seeing those same children deprived of the opportunity to succeed because of obstacles created by others.
I recently became troubled by a situation with one of my students. With his “A” average and a rigorous course load dominated by AP, IB and honors classes, I had long expected him to approach me for guidance on his college search, and I was prepared to write him glowing recommendations to the college of his choice. But the subject never came up, so I sought to determine what his concerns were.
He was at first evasive, but eventually confided in me that his undocumented status meant that he would be unable to secure the financial aid he needed to attend college.
I had never felt so helpless in my entire life. In my most recent conversation with this student, he confided that his own sister, who was born in the United States, would not have the same problem. I was both heartbroken and relieved.
Would allow all graduates in-state tuition rates
Passing the Dream Act would change things for the better for my student and countless others who are on the road to becoming productive, tax-paying members of society and yet are currently barred from doing so. If enacted, the Dream Act will allow all students graduating from Minnesota’s high schools to pay in-state tuition rates in all of Minnesota’s public colleges and universities regardless of their immigration status.
It will also authorize the use of private funds to create scholarships for undocumented students in public colleges and universities. It means students can pursue their dreams without the fear of being “discovered” or worse.
Passing the Dream Act shouldn’t just be a moral imperative for our state’s leaders, but for the entire education profession as well. I went into teaching to help children become this country’s future teachers, scientists, doctors, computer analysts, entrepreneurs and elected officials. Current immigration laws are a barrier that prevents me from fulfilling the promise I’ve made to my students. I must be on the forefront of those advocating for policies that improve access and opportunity for all kids. I can’t deny them a future solely because someone else has determined their past.
The time to act is now. We need to do better for all students, not just some. Our cities, our state and our society will all benefit when the Dream Act becomes law.
Lee-Ann Stephens is a 24-year veteran high-school teacher in the Minneapolis area and member of Empowering Educators for Equity (E3MN), a grassroots, teacher-led group working to ensure that Minnesota educators play an active role in shaping policies that affect students and the teaching profession.
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