Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year – and WEAC Region 7 member – Sarahí Monterrey joined dozens of other state teachers of the year and hundreds of NEA members last weekend for the “Teach-In for Freedom,” an all-day event organized by Teachers Against Child Detention (TACD) to protest the inhumane detention of children at the Mexican border and the criminalization of immigrant families.
“The Teach-In in El Paso was a powerful experience because teachers were united to be a voice for the over 10,000 children who are in detention centers across our country,” Monterrey told weac.org. “This was not a protest but rather an opportunity to educate the public about immigration policies and the effects of these policies on children.
“It was powerful to come together with educators from across the country who shared lessons on various aspects of immigration,” she said. “There were also community organizations present who are doing tremendous work to advocate for immigrant rights, and they provided excellent resources to the public.”
Monterrey, interviewed by PBS News Hour, said the impact of the administration’s immigration policies reaches deep into her classroom in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She said she sees effects of trauma in her classroom, with students saying they are sad, can’t concentrate or have stomach aches.
“It’s very difficult for students to learn,” Monterrey said. “And it’s very hard because, sometimes, even as an educator, it’s hard to find the right words of what to say, because, sometimes, I do feel helpless.”
With support from WEAC, Monterrey traveled to El Paso to participate in the teach-in, which was led by National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning. The goal was to shed light on the impact of child detention policies on the border, which TACD calls a “moral disaster.” The teach-in focused on the harm immigrant kids experience when separated from their families, and aimed to educate the country on why these families have fled from their home countries and how Americans can welcome them legally and contribute to their ongoing care and integration.
NEA Today also covered the event, noting that educators and others have been outraged by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant and refugee children as young as 18 months old from their parents.
“Detained in more than 100 government detention centers across 17 states, these children have been denied access to public education, and likely will suffer irreparable, lifelong psychological damage, educators said. The practice also violates their fundamental right to seek asylum,” NEA Today reported.
In honoring Monterrey first as the State High School Teacher of the Year and then as Wisconsin’s representative for National Teacher of the Year, the Department of Public Instruction noted that, as a child immigrant from El Salvador, Monterrey recognizes the pivotal role teachers play in students’ lives.
“The power in making students feel welcome and safe cannot be underestimated,” she said. DPI noted:
Monterrey’s work on inclusion includes the visible, “Dreamers Welcome” and “This School Welcomes You” posters. Not as visible, but just as important, are her extra efforts to ensure a curriculum that is representative of various backgrounds so students feel inspired; her work to improve family communication so parents understand they are part of their student’s success; and her outreach to ensure that English learner (EL) students have access to extracurricular activities and support to be ready for college.
Watch the PBS News Hour report on the El Paso Teach-In:
Read the NEA Today report:
Read more about Sarahí Monterrey: