Denver School District Actively Seeks Out Undocumented Immigrants To Be Teachers

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

Activist at the April 5th rally in front of the White House, holds a sign that reads, "We want education, not rejection."

A Colorado school district has become the first in the nation to actively seek out qualified undocumented immigrants who want to be teachers, 9 News, NBC’s Colorado affiliate first reported. The Denver Public School (DPS) system has joined with Teach for America (TFA) to hire undocumented immigrants who were granted temporary legal presence and work authorization under a presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. So far, there are two DPS teachers with DACA status and the school hopes to add ten more teachers for the upcoming semester.

According to the press release out Thursday, in order to qualify to teach at DPS, the would-be teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree, and have an undergraduate GPA of at least a 2.50. For the first year, TFA corps members wouldreceive an alternate license issued by the Colorado Department of Education. But through funding made possible by the Walton Family Foundation Inc, TFA teachers can then obtain their traditional teaching licenses through a program at University of Colorado Denver.

Alejandro Fuentes Mena is one of the two DACA-approved teachers at DPS. He came to America from Chile at the age of four. “Bringing in more teachers with deferred action status speaks to the importance of equity and opportunity at Teach For America and Denver Public Schools,” Fuentes Mena said in the press release. “I now have the opportunity to impact my students and show them that they too can achieve at the highest levels.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said, “These teachers often are bi-lingual or multi-lingual and have a deep personal understanding of the challenges that many of our students face who similarly came to this country in undocumented status as young children.”

One criticism lobbed against the program is that DACA-approved teachers would take jobs away from Americans. “TFA corps members are not replacing American teachers,” TFA Managing Director of Regional Communications Sharise Darby insisted. “[They] apply for open jobs and go through the same application and interview process as everyone else.” She added that the primary function is to “bring the best possible teachers” to DPS.

An estimated ten to 20 percent of the DPS student population are undocumented, while about one-third of the 87,398 student population are English-language learners. Darby explained to ThinkProgress on Friday that the program would instill “culturally responsible teaching” that “cultivates” an environment “where teachers are able to reflect and share those same backgrounds.”

Denver may be the first school district to hire DACA recipients through such a partnership, but “culturally responsive pedagogy” is a known technique used by schools elsewhere. The teaching method allows teachers and students, who share similar cultural, dialects, family, home, and community backgrounds, to build better relationships and to help make students feel valued. One 2002 study into the teacher-student relationship in 15 school districts found that teachers’ “affective behaviors are a source of motivation and influence the achievement” of the minority students in those districts. Another study found that educators who teach with “a strong component of authentic caring and compassion increased the achievement and graduation rate.” And responding to cultural diversity has also been linked to “higher test scores in mathematics.”