For America’s undocumented families, schools are places of unmatched opportunity: every child in the U.S. is guaranteed a K-12 education regardless of immigration status. Yet undocumented students or those with undocumented parents face monumental barriers in accessing an equitable education. “There are nearly 4 million K-12 students who are part of mixed-status families, yet less than 1% of districts in this country have policies and systems in place to protect the rights of undocumented students,” said Viridiana Carrizales, co-founder and CEO of ImmSchools. In response, ImmSchools provides training in inclusive education practices, promotes immigrant-centered curricula, and uplifts the voices of immigrant families. Led by current or former undocumented educators and students, ImmSchools’ programs are attuned to the challenges these families face—and the powerful role they can play as agents of community change. “We created ImmSchools not only for the students of tomorrow, but for the families whose strengths we saw ignored by institutions and whose diversity was cast aside as just a problem to be solved instead of the rich asset we knew it to be,” added co-founder and chief program officer Vanessa Luna. By addressing the interconnected impacts of education and immigration, ImmSchools is ensuring our schools are a foundational platform from which any family can achieve anything.
There are more than 3.9 million students in K-12 schools who are undocumented or have a parent that is undocumented. Despite this large number and the federal protections granted to undocumented students in K-12, less than 1% of school districts across the country have passed and implemented pro-immigrant policies and practices. Founded and led by formerly undocumented educators, ImmSchools seeks to foster the resilience of our immigrant community through knowledge and power-building spaces; strengthen the capacity of educators in order to address the holistic needs of undocumented students; and create systemic change with the implementation of immigrant-friendly policies in school districts.
ImmSchools is a culmination of the life, work, and everyday experiences of our founders, both of whom grew up undocumented in the K-12 education system. When Vanessa and Viridiana began to work in the field of education, they realized the fears and lack of support they experienced were still a reality for undocumented students and parents in schools across the nation today. With ImmSchools, they are creating the world that their immigrant parents envisioned for them, a world where their worth is measured by their determination, resilience, and strength, and not by their immigration status.
One of the biggest challenges has been the knowledge gap that exists in the educational philanthropic space, where there may be little awareness about the necessity and urgency of meeting the needs of immigrant students. Through multiple unsuccessful attempts to engage educational donors, ImmSchools’ leadership team realized conversations around intersectionality, especially within immigration and education, are not taking place in the philanthropic sector. Similarly, donors who are interested in supporting pro-immigration efforts mainly fund direct legal services, taking a more reactive and short-term approach than a holistic one. Currently, funding across intersectional issue areas is not a common practice.
ImmSchools was founded on the core belief that the fight toward educational equity and justice must be led by those directly impacted by inequity. The leaders that have informed our work are immigrant students and families. Prior to launching ImmSchools, Vanessa and Viridiana met with 50 immigrant students and families and heard directly from 200 school educators in Texas and New York. Additionally, they consulted and were supported by leaders from organizations including RISE Colorado, Latinos for Education, Camelback Ventures, Teach For America, and the San Antonio Independent School District.
The Madrigal family has been one of our program participants for the past year. They are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, live in Brooklyn, and have a first-grade student named Raul. Through ImmSchools, the Madrigal family attends workshops about their rights and resources within and outside of school, helping them understand what to do if immigration officers come to their home, but also how to advocate for Raul’s education. With ImmSchools, Raul’s teacher attends trainings and obtains concrete practices that she can implement in her classroom to better support the unique needs of her undocumented students and families. Lastly, with ImmSchools, Raul’s school has begun to adopt immigrant-friendly policies and practices to create a safe and inclusive learning environment that all of our students need to succeed.
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