One Week Later: We Should Be Celebrating the Stories

One week ago, in Burlington and Winooski, I learned that the very best part of our project is talking to people. Maybe I had gotten a taste of that when I first formed my team in November, or when I had my interview with Shawna Shapiro and began to learn what ELL education really means. But no experience can come close to a full day of interviews, most of them with other high school students, and all them with amazing people. I was learning about ELL education from those who themselves are experiencing it. I was watching the footage for our documentary assemble itself before my very eyes. But most of all, I was talking to people: getting to know them, enjoying every insightful thing they said, and realizing that I wish I could become friends with them. Not despite the fact that they were ELL students. Not even because they were ELL students. Only because they were students: interesting and kind students just like me.

That’s the special thing about our topic—it focuses on students. Yes, they all have different stories. But each one of the stories I heard last Monday made a positive impact on me. They stuck with me, not because they were traumatic or tragic, but because they were interesting human stories. We should be celebrating all of them. The Hindu Nepali girl who is a dancer and wants to be an engineer. The Vietnamese boy who arrived in America just one month ago and loves it because he has a passion for speaking English. The whole ELL class who designed a logo bearing the words “All Are Welcome” and a picture of two cupped hands holding a dove.

All Are Welcome. Words that I wish the government were saying right now. See, that’s the thing. When we did these interviews, all still were welcome in America, at least officially. Now, all are very officially not welcome. It breaks my heart to think of all the people, just as amazing as the ones we talked to on Monday, who are now barred from entering the USA. So many refugees need America, and so many immigrants want it. I want them to be here, and I would argue that America needs them to be here. These are the people who want to get an education, and who want to use it to become nurses or scientists or liaisons, who will help even more people get an education. These are the people who want to help our country. And our country has just banned them.

So this is my question: what can we do? This course is about making change, and that is what I direly want to do. I don’t think it’s too late to find an audience who we can point our product to in order to make a real change. Yes, I want to point it at students, so that they learn to respect and appreciate English Language Learners and New Americans. Yes, I want to point it at teachers and administrators, so that they can make their ELL education programs as good as they can be. But is there any way we can also point this at the state government? On the radio yesterday, I heard that there are measures they can take to protect the New Americans who are already in Vermont, even if they can’t reverse the executive orders preventing more from coming. And that is what our story has been about from the beginning: New Americans who are already in Vermont. Is there any way that our documentary can help keep them here? And if so, what are our next steps?

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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