‘A great loss’

by Keith Barber

What is the formula for the area of a circle?” Anna Posada asked her sixth-grade math class. “Pi [radius] squared!” three students shouted before Posada could finish asking her question. Posada, a teacher at Mineral Springs Middle School in Winston-Salem, enjoyed vigorous participation from the 18 students in her secondperiod class on May 29. All the students in Posada’s class were either African-American or Latino, the norm at Mineral Springs Middle School. After concluding her lesson on calculating the area of irregular shapes, she dismissed her students for lunch. “The time flew by like that,” one student said. “I wish we had you all day,” another student commented. Students didn’t hesitate to compliment Posada’s talents as a teacher. On May 22, the Winston- Salem/Forsyth County Schools gave her the ultimate recognition. Posada, an immigrant from Medellin, Colombia, was named 2009 Teacher of the Year. The day before the award, Posada said one of her students asked for a moment of silence. He then prayed for her to win Teacher of the Year and for the class to all pass their end of grade exams. All the students then said, “Amen!”

“That was so precious to me because they wanted it as bad as I did,” Posada said. “It’s good that we get positive recognition.” The student’s prayer apparently had a ripple effect. Shortly after the award presentation by Superintendent Donald Martin, Posada learned that her students achieved 65 percent proficiency on the math component of their end of grade exams. On May 29, Posada’s third-period class entered her room at 12:20 p.m. The ethnic makeup of the class mirrored that of her second-period class. As they entered the classroom, students pulled classroom calculators from two plastic bins and took their seats. “Today, we’re going to work on scale drawings,” Posada announced. After dividing the 16 students into three work groups, Posada instructed them on how to make scale drawings of Hot Wheels cars. Posada said she has taught at Mineral Springs for nearly eight years on an H-1B visa. She didn’t receive her green card until December 2008, after a six-year application process. When she moved to the United States eight years ago with her husband, Esteban, and her two daughters, she was told it would take six to eight weeks to get her H-1B visa paperwork. It took eight months. Elizabeth Motsinger, a school board member, said Posada’s achievement at Mineral Springs offers a shining example of how immigrants can contribute to the community. Motsinger said it is important the school system and the state’s community college system create an environment where there is real hope for success for Latino students — the hope of being able to go on to college. Currently, that hope does not exist in North Carolina. In 2007, the NC State Board of Community Colleges decided to admit undocumented students at all of its 58 campuses. However, public outcry against the policy led to the board changing its stance and imposing a ban on undocumented students in May 2008. On April 17, the state board issued its final report on a study of alternatives to the board’s policy on undocumented students.

Nolo martinez, aUncg professor, said north carolina faces a looming labor shortage inthe areas of healthcare and education. Granting undocumented studentsentry into the state’s community college system and offering them apathway to citizenship is both practical and principled, martinez said.(photos by keith T. Barber)

The report suggested three policy choices: admit undocumented students at in-state tuition rates provided they meet certain requirements; admit undocumented students at out-of-state tuition rates; or deny access to undocumented students. Posadasaid she sees first-hand the impact of the state board’s decision.“It’s not the kids’ fault that they’re here illegally,” she said. “It’sthe same thing like I did for my children, but I did it the right way.It’s very sad because they’re stuck — they can’t pursue their dream andthese are outstanding kids.” Posada said she recently bumped into aformer student who is about to enter high school. She encouraged him tobegin building his college r’sum’, but then realized he could be deniedthe opportunity to go to college due to his undocumented status. “Hewould be a top scholar,” she said. “It would be a big loss because Ithink this child could become an incredible professional, service thecommunity in one fashion or another — it would be a loss.” Posada saidseveral of her former students have dropped out of school. “Theysee that future block and many of these children see that working inconstruction, for example, would produce them more money than stayingin school,” she said. Martin said the school system has tracked thedropout and attrition rate for the past three years. The numbersreflect that 50 percent of Latino students drop out, 32 percent ofAfrican-American students drop out and 20 percent of white studentsdrop out. Martin made his remarks during a public forum on educationopportunities for undocumented students sponsored by the ForsythEducation Partnership on May 27. The forum included presentations by anumber of speakers, including UNCG professor Nolo Martinez, who servedas the state’s first director of Hispanic and Latino affairs. Martinezsaid a looming labor shortage of skilled workers in North Carolina isjust one of the reasons the community colleges should change theiradmissions policies. “It’s about doing the best we can andbeing a model for the world,” he said. Martinez said two of the pillarsof American society are family reunification and economic opportunity,and those values should guide our state’s leaders. “These arebased on values, based on who we want to be as a nation,” Martinezsaid. Family reunification and hard work are values Latinos live by,Posada said. “The family concept is big time to the Latino and thededication to work — we don’t skip a day,” Posada said. “That is onething I have found difficult here too — the way people take off work. Ialways say, ‘I don’t work in a pillow factory. I work with humanbeings, so one day out of the job makes a big difference.’” Motsingersaid Latino culture adds a unique value to American society. “Latinofamily values are great family values,” she said. “We should supportthose values by giving them a chance to pursue the American Dream.”

Martinsaid he’s witnessed an explosion in the Latino student populationduring his 15 years as superintendent. In 1994, Latinos comprised lessthan 1 percent of the student population of the Winston- Salem/ForsythCounty Schools. Today, Latinos comprise more than 17 percent of theoverall school population. In 1994, the school system offered threeEnglish as a Second Language or ESL programs. Currently thesystem offers 40 programs to 6,000 students. The superintendent saidhe’s often asked how many “illegal aliens” attend school in Forsyth. Towhich he responds by saying he has no idea because the school system isnot allowed to ask if a child is undocumented. Also, 90 percent ofHispanic students in the school system qualify for free or reducedprice lunches, while 72 percent of African American students qualifyand 18 percent of white students qualify. Remarkably, Hispanic studentsoutperform African American students on EOG and end-ofcourse or EOCtests. “In all cases, our Hispanic students are outperformingour African American students in all major metropolitan areas (of thestate),” Martin said. Currently, 11 states admit undocumented studentsto their community colleges and universities and require the studentsto pay in-state tuition. Martinez said North Carolina should take “babysteps” and move toward the standard of making a college educationreadily available to undocumented students. The Dream Act would providea path to UScitizenshipfor undocumented students if they meet specific requirements. Passageof the bill would allow the best and brightest to have entry intohigher education and provide employers with a skilled workforce,Martinez said. Tony Asion, executive director of El Pueblo —the state’slargest Latino advocacy organization, also spoke at the forum. Asionsaid education is not a fundamental right under the Constitution, butthe 1982 Supreme Court decision of Plyler v. Doe states thatundocumented children that come to this country have a right to a freepublic education. However, when they become legal adults, a differentstandard is applied, and in Asion’s opinion, that is an injustice.Asion, who emigrated from Cuba at the age of 6, said he does notadvocate “baby steps” but clear and decisive action by the state boardto pave the way for undocumented students to get a public postsecondary education.

Gary Green, president of Forsyth Tech,said Plyler v. Doe underscores a basic tenet of American society thateveryone has the right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit ofhappiness. “How do you pursue that right without an education?” Green asked.

Greensaid the community college system has implemented four differentpolicies regarding undocumented students during his tenure at ForsythTech, and the state board is still considering its options. “WhereNorth Carolina comes down on that issue, I don’t know. The positionwe’re in now is part of the problem. We look forward to being part ofthe solution,” Green said. Posada said if she could say one thing tothe state board, it would be simple and direct. “Americarepresents opportunity and Latino parents want a better life for theirchildren,” she said. “Whoever comes to take advantage of thatopportunity has to do it the right way — stick to the rules, play fair,do what they need to do. Although this is the land of opportunity, it’salso a land where you have to work very hard for what you get.” As thestudents in Posada’s third period class filed out into the hallway,they passed a bulletin board that read, “How can I become a lifelonglearner?” For many of Posada’s students, there’s no clear path tocontinue their education beyond high school. So the question on thebulletin board doesn’t have an easy answer.