The news can teach you lessons and teachers have your back.
That’s the message David Wiltz told his social studies students at Thomas Jefferson High School south of downtown L.A. on Tuesday.
The juniors, a mix of English learners and special-needs students, fidgeted, listened and rested their heads on their desks as Wiltz engaged them in a conversation about President Trump’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“Quick question: Did you hear what happened this morning?” he asked, pointing a long ruler at students. “What did Trump do this morning?
“DACA is stopped,” one student said. Wiltz asked for more details. The students piped up, mostly one at a time.
“He made a program to protect immigrants, something called Dreamers,” said a teen in the front, his arms and head propped on th gray camouflage print knapsack on his desk.
“Didn’t Obama make it?” asked another student.
Wiltz commended the students for helping one another answer, explained the details of Tuesday’s announcement and then gave them five minutes to Google the news on their phones.
He told them that Trump had left it to Congress to take action within six months, when he will end the DACA program.
“If by March nothing is figured out, DACA is rescinded and 800,000 people stand a chance of being deported,” Wiltz said. “This is why it’s very important to know about our current events. The one thing we need to understand is what it is versus what people are freaking out about.”
He emphasized the importance of research: “The idea [of ending DACA] is absolutely terrible, let’s not get it twisted. But we need to know what it is in order for us to combat it.”
The classroom looks out onto Jefferson’s quad, a green space with picnic tables and big, leafy trees. It was warm, because the air conditioner hadn’t been working for half the period.
As students researched DACA on their phones, they chattered in English and Spanish. “Vieron las noticias?” one student asked another. Have you seen the news?
Wiltz called the class to order and shared a personal example of how DACA can affect people. He has a friend, he said, who moved to the U.S. as a 5-year-old, went to Cal State L.A. and now works as a clerk. She had called him that morning and said she was worried about being deported.
Wiltz asked the students whether they knew anyone in a similar situation?
“My mom, my dad, my uncle, my family,” said a boy in the front row.
“This is why it’s important to be aware of what’s going on,” Wiltz said.
“I’m going to be adopted and they’ll deport my mom,” the boy said.
“No, you’re not,” Wiltz said.
He began to try to reassure the class.
“No one is ever going to give up your personal information. No one will ever say whether you’re undocumented,” Wiltz said. “I will go to jail before I give up your guys’ information.”
In case that message didn’t quite sink in, he kept on going. “You can best believe we will protect you all the way up to putting me in jail,” he said. “Does everybody understand that?”