"No student can learn in an environment where they don't feel safe and protected," says Marrianne Hayward, the president of the Jefferson County American Federal of Teachers.
She's really taking a page out of the national organization's latest magazine and its strong stand on immigration.
"We represent teachers and we care about students and we have got to provide the protection and the safety that they need in order to learn. The children are here and we have got to educate them while they are here and that needs to happen in a safe environment," says Hayward.
Hayward is praising the Newcomers Centers in Jefferson County Schools with a goal of giving immigrant students a boost in learning not just academics, but American culture to help them be successful.
Tanya Hiers is the ESL teacher at the Newcomers Center West at McAdory High School.
"It takes seven to ten years to learn a language. so for children who are entering high school and they don't speak English.. four years of high school is not enough time to be successful without some intensive instruction and support," says Hiers.
She says before the program started 3 years ago, those students were lost in school and then dropping out at a high rate. They were taught by good teachers, but she says they were teachers "who were not likely trained in ESL or ESL best practices and would just be doing the best they could to help those kids who didn't know any English at all."
Hiers says her students who now spend 6 hours a day in her class for 6 months to a year have a chance to thrive and learn not just English, but American culture which gives context to their academic learning as well.
"The kids feel comfortable asking questions. Their friends can translate for them if they need help and it's not interrupting other students," says Hiers.
Many of her students think of Hiers as a surrogate mother, someone they can trust and go to if they have a problem.
About the anti-immigration rhetoric: Her students are well aware of it.
One student said, "There are like bad people out there and they don't like us in here."
"A lot of that rhetoric filters down into the schools. I know pretty soon after the elections, a little elementary student told a Hispanic child you are not going to be here much longer," said Hayward.
Hayward says of teachers: "We're here to educate all students and that's one of the things that makes America great is that we value education and that we educate all students."
The American Federation of Teachers magazine The American Educator goes as far as to advise immigrant families on what to do if ICE agents show up at their door including not opening the door, documenting the raid with pictures and or video and saying only, "I plead the fifth," referring to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and do not sign anything without speaking to an attorney.
"We represent teachers and we care about students and we have got to provide the protection and the safety that they need in order to learn. The children are here and we have got to educate them while they are here and that needs to happen in a safe environment," Hayward says about the AFT.
Hiers says the communities in McAdory and Pinson Valley, where the two centers are housed, have been very supportive as well as the Jefferson County School system.
One student says: "Here, I can feel free."
Copyright 2018 WBRC. All rights reserved.