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Teachers’ Union Creates Video in Support of Immigrant Rights

By Grace Geraghty

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The Teachers’ Union for District 219, which encompasses Niles West, Niles North, and Niles Central, banded together to create a video in support of immigrant rights. The video, for which participants volunteered their free time, was recorded at Niles North in mid-March and was released this week.

Niles North teacher Pankaj Sharma, who helped organize support for the video, cited D219’s diversity as a motivator behind the inclusive message of the video.

“We felt that it was important for our faculty and staff to make a public statement affirming our schools as a welcoming place for all students. We truly care about our students, parents, and community, and this was a visible way to share our support,” Sharma said. “We are an incredibly diverse school with an enormous immigrant and refugee population. Since we often cite our diversity as a strength and feature of our community, we felt it was important to speak up when some members of our diverse community feel anxiety and fear.”

Many teachers chose to participate to foster a sense of unity at district 219 following recent political developments.

“I believe that teachers should be at the forefront of democratic values. It is important for our students to know that their teachers support them during this period of fear and intimidation in our country. I want them to feel safe and protected in our school,” Niles West librarian Sherry Jo Baehr said. “The people at D219 do not represent the values of the current POTUS, We will fight against any policies that threaten to harm our students.

“I participated in this video project because I feel that it’s urgent for students at Niles West and Niles North, and their parents and families, to know that everyone is welcome here,” English teacher Tamara Jaffe-Notier said. “School is the place for rational discourse and learning. Fear shuts rational thinking.  We aren’t suggesting that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but that our school-wide family stands together to respond bravely to anti-immigrant, anti-refugee bigotry.”

Other participants stressed the importance of maintaining a welcoming school district, especially due to our massive diversity.

“Diversity is our strength, not only as a school and as a community, but as a country.  Some people are afraid of what they don’t know.  The more one knows, the less one fears,” national college advisor Jerry Pope said.

“I hope that those watching the video understand that we all belong in this society, despite feeling marginalized and/or targeted,” Chinese teacher Wileen Hsing said. “I hope that those watching understand that everyone is and should feel welcome here.”

Some teachers were influenced by their expansive knowledge afforded to them by the subject they teach, as with U.S. History and Civics teacher Daniel Kosiba.

“As a history teacher, I also understand that immigrants built this country and have always played a leading role in making it great! Nativist and xenophobic policies designed to restrict immigration or persecute millions of immigrants are irrational, hypocritical, inhumane, and a direct contradiction of the ideals our nation was founded upon,” Kosiba said. “The U.S. is supposed to be a nation that values and offers opportunities to all human beings in search of a better life, regardless of their race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or social class.”

Students loved seeing their school’s faculty and staff rise up to support their community.

“I loved the video,” junior Julia Gladysz said. “It makes me feel so good that teachers at our school actually care about the students and our families.”

“It’s really beautiful to see so many teachers at both schools come together to create something that shows their students how supported and welcomed they are in our school district,” junior Nicole Cardona said.

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