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Career, college event for ESL families, students upcoming

Mary Hinds maryhinds@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 15, 2015 at 1:45 PM

Getting children ready to face life after high school and helping them decide between the workforce and higher education is daunting for any parent. For immigrant parents, the task can be even more overwhelming.

To help those families navigate difficult waters, Wilson County schools is planning a college and career event for English as a Second Language students and families. The event will be Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Lebanon High School cafeteria at 500 Blue Devil Drive in Lebanon.

Tara Loftis, who heads parent involvement and federal projects for the county schools, hopes every student and family can benefit from the information provided at the open house.

"This is for all ESL immigrant families," she said, adding while the vast majority of those families are Hispanic, some are from other countries, as well.

"These families can hear about upcoming legislation that is important to ESL students who want to attend college," Loftis said. "Whether they are documented or undocumented, parents can ask questions about where their student can go post-graduation."

Loftis said participants will be able to connect with resource providers and educators; get answers with FAFSA and tuition assistance; hear about educational opportunities through the schools' career tech program; and meet with local colleges and job providers.

"There will also be an attorney in attendance who will answer questions about laws that affect immigrants," she said.

While all this may seem a bit normal in some people's minds, Lofits said the stories she hears are about real people in real pain who are living in fear for themselves and their children.

"I hear from people who are trying to do the right thing, and they give money to people who say they will help them with the law and the paperwork to stay here legally," she said. "Then, some of these people take their money and do nothing, and these immigrant families can't go to the authorities because they fear being deported. They have no recourse; they live in fear."

Another problem these families have is with their students who are making strides academically but are afraid to apply to colleges or for college scholarships for fear of exposing their immigration status.

"I've been helping this young lady who is a senior in high school," Loftis said. "Her goal is to be a doctor, and she has a great grade point average. But she is illegal and has no options."

The open house is designed to give these folks some ideas of how to proceed and help their children move forward.

The event will also boast a special guest presentation by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. The TIRRC is a statewide immigrant and refugee-led group that works to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee help them defend their rights, and be recognized as positive contributors.

Attendees will be brought up to date with information about the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act that would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal aliens of good moral character who graduate from American high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would get temporary residency for a six-year period.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act calls for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service. Applications under DACA began in August 2012.

Debbie Vaughn, who teaches English as a Second Language in Lebanon schools, also plans to attend the event. Vaughn is a mainstay in the local Hispanic community, holding dinners and making sure families have a place to turn to when they need help. She also heads a community outreach program,  Community Involvement through Education and Literacy Organization or CIELO - which means sky or heaven in Spanish. CIELO help local citizens learn to speak Spanish so they can communicate with the areas growing number of Spanish speakers.

Loftis works closely with Vaughn, and both are excited about finding new ways to help these families, many who with new laws, new customs and a new language as they try to do the best for their families.

"She's so spunky," Loftis said of Vaughn. "Just hanging out with her is worth it."

There will also be a door prize given away and refreshments for participants.

For more information about the event, contact Loftis at loftist@wcschools.com.

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