Equity & Diversity Photos

‘The Friendly School’

By Nicole Frugé — June 08, 2012 1 min read
Darien Zelaya, 2, clings to his mother Delkin Carcamo while she speaks with ESL parent liaison Ida White outside their trailer in Foley, Ala. Ms. White works closely with the Spanish-speaking families who live in the southern half of the 28,000-student Baldwin County school system, where Foley is located.
Seven-year-old Ruby Pacheco plays outside her trailer home in Foley, Ala. Ruby is a 2nd grader at Foley Elementary School, where she tested out of the English-as-a-second-language program. Though she was born in the United States, the rest of her family is undocumented.
Alexander Gonzalez, 8, left, talks to his brother Jairo, 11, about a homework assignment in the bedroom they share in their home in Foley, Ala. Alexander is in 2nd grade at Foley Elementary School and Jairo is in 6th grade at Foley Intermediate School. Jairo was working on questions about the book Tuck Everlasting. One question stumped him. It asked where he thought he would be in ten years. Alexander suggested a soccer star or musician. Jairo wasn't able to imagine his future.
Juan Pablo Pacheco, 12, cooks dinner with his mom Marietelma Ixmatlahua inside their trailer home after school in Foley, Ala. Juan Pablo is in 6th grade at Foley Intermediate School. “I honor my parents for bringing us here,” he says. “I don’t know what I would be doing over there in Mexico.”
Lucy Cunningham, right, an ESL paraeducator at Foley Elementary, helps kindergartner Lizabeth Guerra try on pants to replace the oversized pair she wore to school while volunteer Dora Gutierrez looks on. Foley’s staff collects food and clothing for needy families, teaches adult ESL classes, and helps families translate documents.
April Montemayor, 8, from left, her sister Berenise Montemayor, 2, and cousin Ruben Roblero, 4, wait for a pool to fill with water as ESL parent liaison Ida White visits her mom Maria Guerra inside their trailer in Foley, Ala. April is in first grade at Foley Elementary. Ms. White was trying to get the family to take advantage of summer learning programs.
Ruby Pacheco works on homework inside her trailer home after school in Foley, Ala.
Alexander Gonzalez plays after school in his backyard in Foley, Ala. Alexander is in 2nd grade at Foley Elementary School. “It doesn’t matter that my children and I are citizens. People look at us now, see our brown skin and hear us speak Spanish, and treat us like we don’t belong here,” says Alexander's mom, Carmen Gonzalez.
Juan Pablo Pacheco, center, hangs out with friends after playing basketball with a soccer ball.

Approved nearly a year ago by state lawmakers and Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, Alabama’s immigration law is considered the toughest in the nation. It is seen as effectively pushing undocumented immigrants from the state by curtailing many of their rights. The law makes it a criminal offense for undocumented immigrants to register a vehicle or rent an apartment, and it cracks down on anyone who employs or houses undocumented immigrants. And the state’s public schools and educators are squarely in the middle of the human fallout it has brought on.

Foley Elementary School in Foley, Ala., began serving immigrants about 15 years ago in a summer program for the children of migrant workers who came to work the sweet-potato and watermelon harvest. For more than a decade, the school—known as escuela amistosa, or the “friendly school”— has been central to the tight-knit immigrant community.

“I’ve told everyone who will listen that this law is wrong and it hurts children,” says William Lawrence, the longtime principal of Foley Elementary, where 20 percent of the 1,200 students are Latino, most of them American-born. “I’m a lifelong Republican, but I can’t stand by and watch as politicians try to hurt good children and families.”

“A child who is in fear cannot learn, and that is what we are dealing with,” says Lawrence, “For the most part, these are American-citizen children whose constitutional rights are under attack by this law,” Lawrence says. “And all children, regardless of their legal status, have the right to come to school free of fear.”

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A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.

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