by John Seidlitz
Amplifying the Voices of Unaccompanied Minors
July 21, 2021, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. CT
Featuring Ari Honarvar, Dr. Jose Luis Zelaya, and Emily Francis (with one of her students)
Free registration; donations to KIND encouraged
In March of 2021, nearly 19,000 unaccompanied minors — children under the age of 18, entering the United States without an adult guardian — entered U.S. border custody, according to a CBS report. While those numbers have fallen in recent weeks, the reality remains that there’s been a dramatic increase this year in the number of children making the trip across the border into the United States on their own. This experience is unique from other newcomers’ and multilingual learners’ experiences. Unaccompanied minors have experienced the traumas of immigration — radical uncertainty, violence, detention, and more — without the guidance of an adult relative.
All this means that, when it comes to supporting unaccompanied minors (many of whom have faced interruptions in education, as well), schools and teachers need to take a trauma-informed approach. One incredible educator who is working to equip teachers of unaccompanied minors is Laura Gardner, founder of Immigrant Connections. Her workshops and online resources (like this blog post on the 10 things educators need to know about unaccompanied minors) are a goldmine for teachers and school administrators who want to better support these students as they navigate school and life in the United States.
For the past few months I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to work as a volunteer with Catholic Charities at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center where (at one point) over 3,000 unaccompanied minors were being sheltered. I was overcome by both the generosity of the volunteers, and the tremendous strength and character of the kids. Many of them have experienced serious trauma and are suffering from depression, yet still maintain a spirit of persistence, resilience, and even hope. Encountering their stories helped move me away from viewing their arrival simply as a “problem to be solved” as we tried to figure out together how to work with them in our classrooms. Certainly, we have a lot to teach them, but they also have a lot to teach us. After some reflection and conversation on the subject with our friend and conference co-sponsor, Orly Klapholz, the idea for our new conference, Amplifying the Voices of Unaccompanied Minors, was born.
Amplifying the Voices of Unaccompanied Minors: The Conference
Our goal with this conference, co-hosted by Seidlitz Education and Inlier Learning, is not strictly to share teaching strategies, but to open educators’ eyes to the unique experience of being an unaccompanied minor. We are beyond honored to have three incredible speakers — all of whom have lived the experience of being unaccompanied minors in the American school system — joining us for the conference in July.
Emily Francis was born and raised in Guatemala. As the oldest of five siblings, she was often the caretaker for her younger sisters and brother. Her mother left Guatemala for the United States when Emily was thirteen, and two years later, it was time for the children to join her. After a two-month journey to the United States with just her siblings and a coyote, Emily’s family was reunited in New York. At 15 she enrolled in a US high school, where her love of learning and lack of English came to a head. Emily has continuously used her struggles in the US school system as opportunities to pivot and continue moving forward. After earning her Master’s in Teaching ESL, Emily finally achieved her dream of becoming a teacher.
Learn more about Emily’s journey on her blog.
Dr. Jose Luis Zelaya
Jose Luis grew up in San Pedro Sula in Honduras and went to work at a young age to help support his family. After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, his mom and sister fled, leaving Jose by himself. After living on the streets, he decided to make the journey north. Arriving in the United States alone, Jose was reunited with his family and enrolled in seventh grade. He was encouraged by his science teacher, Mrs. Wright, to continue his schooling. Jose did so until he graduated with a PhD in Urban Education from Texas A&M University. He continues to support his community and students through his work with Dr. Zelaya Educational Consulting LLC.
Learn more about Jose Luis’s journey in his TEDx Talk.
Ari grew up in Shiraz, Iran where she was surrounded by Persian poetry and art. Growing up during the Iran-Iraq war, she came to the United States alone at the age of 14. She has taken her love of poetry and music to work with refugee families and unaccompanied minors, founding Rumi With A View to bridge art and healing. Ari is a journalist, author, and Iranian Musical Ambassador of Peace.
Learn more about Ari’s journey in Newsweek.
Participants in the conference will hear first-person accounts from Emily, Jose Luis, and Ari (as well as from one of Emily’s students) about living through the experience of being an unaccompanied minor, including their perspectives on the American school experience (especially what teachers did that was helpful — or unhelpful for them). Following the presentations, there will be an opportunity for a Q&A session with the featured speakers.
Furthering the Mission: Support for Kids in Need of Defense
While we are not charging any registration fees for this conference, we are encouraging all participants to donate to KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) through our dedicated fundraising page. This fantastic organization provides legal services for unaccompanied minors.
See you on July 21!
Please reserve your spot today for this powerful, virtual conference. Emily’s, Jose Luis’s, and Ari’s stories are sure to move and inspire teachers, administrators, and instructional specialists and coaches alike, opening our eyes to the unique experiences many of our students carry with them into our classrooms.
Even if you can’t join us on July 21, we encourage you to make a contribution to KIND to help further this critical mission today.