Luis Juárez is a teacher on a mission. He wants to help Spanish-speaking parents learn how to support their children’s learning and build relationships with their children’s teachers and administrators.
“Some parents are unfamiliar and a little shy about approaching the teachers, especially when they’re not sure what to do or they don’t know English,” said Juárez, who’s been teaching at William Lipscomb Elementary School in Dallas, Texas for over five years.
As a Latino bilingual teacher, Juárez is uniquely qualified to help meet these families’ needs throughout the school year. He says it’s easy to see that all parents—no matter their language or cultural background—want the best for their children and want to do whatever it takes to help them succeed.
“I help them navigate the whole education system and work with them to understand how things work in the school and the district,” Juárez explains.
He is passionate about this work, because he knows firsthand that family engagement is an important factor in students’ overall achievement and development.
Juárez is one of the 20,000 teachers in the United States who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He has been a DACA recipient since the program started in 2012. DACA was implemented during the Obama administration to protect eligible immigrant youth from deportation.
Journey to Becoming an Educator
Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Juárez—like many other immigrants—moved with his family when he was a child to Dallas, Texas, in search of a better life. Life in a new country wasn’t always easy, but Juárez found support in his school community.
“My reading teacher helped me go over vocabulary and spelling to help me become more comfortable with English. We played a word game and I wasn’t even noticing that I was learning,” said Juárez. “She was interested not just in how I was doing in school, but in how I was doing at home.”
Juárez was soon inspired to become an educator by these experiences. “My reading teacher and others in my school building helped me find ways to succeed, and I told myself that’s what I want to do too—help others. And the way to do it was to become a teacher,” he explained.
Motivated by his teachers and parents—who told him that getting an education was the most important pursuit that he could undertake, Juárez graduated from the Dallas public school system and went on to study at the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in education—bilingual education in particular—and pursued his dream of becoming a teacher.
Throughout his studies, he kept in mind his original goal, to give back to the community that had given him so much and help the next generation of students. At every step, he saw examples of the huge impact teachers can have on their students.
“In every school, I saw the merits of being a good teacher,” he said. “I had a lot of will to succeed and do well, and the teachers motivated me.”
Finding Community Inspiration
Juárez graduated from the University of Texas in 2014 and was planning to stay in Austin where he had already been offered a job. But his plans changed when he attended a job fair where various school districts were recruiting for teachers. After wandering over to the Dallas public schools table to see what his old school district was offering, he saw one of his old school teachers—Roxanne Cheek Rodríguez.
Rodríguez was one of Juárez’ first teachers at Thomas C. Marsh Elementary School in Dallas. He hadn’t seen or spoken with her in about 10 years. Now she was an administrator, looking for teachers. She convinced Juárez to go back to Dallas and work with her in the school district where he grew up.
“She was one of those teachers who really inspired me and helped me when I first got to the States,” said Juárez. “It seemed like fate was stepping in.”
Since then, he has become an invaluable resource, not only as someone intimately familiar with the school community, but also as a teacher of math and science in both English and Spanish at the dual-language immersion program at his school.
A Need for Bilingual Teachers
A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that while Latino students nationwide make up about 25% of the student population—and that percentage continues to grow—Latino teachers are only 8% of all teachers across the country. And male Hispanic teachers who are also fully bilingual are an even smaller number.
Juárez is well aware that he is a rarity in the U.S. education system—a male, Latino, bilingual teacher. “There just aren’t enough bilingual teachers,” he said.
And he has a strong point—in Texas, education officials estimate that nearly one million students require help with their English-language skills and rely on Spanish-speaking teachers to assist them.
These numbers might be disheartening to some, but to Juárez, they are an opportunity for growth. He claims that this is where his experience as an immigrant in the U.S. has been helpful in his fifth-grade classroom.
“I want my students to see me, be motivated to say, ‘Hey, I can do this too. Sí se puede, yes, we can,’” he said. “We need to help them realize that their dreams are possible early on. If you wait until high school, it may be too late. You have to start early and tell them about higher education, their options, putting those ideas in their head.”
That’s also why Juárez got involved in Lipscomb Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association—so that he can help both students and parents expand their ideas of what is possible, for their families and themselves.
“Having PTA in our school has helped us to buy science materials, help pay for field trips and bring programs to the school. PTA helps to make many things at school happen. It’s so beneficial to get involved,” he explained.
He has served as the Lipscomb Elementary PTA membership director and stays connected to help families. He wants every parent to know that joining PTA is an easy way to better understand how things work in the education system and what is going on in their child’s school.
“I mention to parents that being a part of PTA is part of being responsible for the education of their children,” said Juárez. “It’s an investment—a minimal investment compared to what they get in return. There is great value to being in PTA. Some parents may say they don’t have the time, but it really is not a lot of time when you see what you and your students and school get out of it. I am so glad that I’ve gotten involved in PTA.”
All of Juárez’s passion and hard work has not gone unrecognized. In 2015, Juárez was one of nine DACA teachers honored by former President Barack Obama at the White House for leadership in the classroom and the community.
“Two key things that have happened to change my life; one was coming here (to the States) and the other was getting DACA, said Juárez. “Before that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but DACA has been a blessing.”
While President Trump has sought to end the DACA program, the initiative is currently tied up in courts while supporters fight to keep it alive. For Juárez, whose eligibility is set to expire in spring 2020, pushing to retain DACA is part of his desire to get involved in PTA and speak up, especially for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
“I have to share my story. Of course I’m worried that it’ll end, but I have to speak up because there are so many falsehoods about immigrants. People don’t hear enough of the good stories, he said. “So many of us are doing well thanks to DACA and the opportunities this country has to offer, and we have to counterattack all the negativity out there.”
Juárez adds that he is an activist for his students. If DACA ends, school districts across the country—including where Juárez works in Dallas—could lose many desperately-needed bilingual teachers. In Texas alone, that would mean over 2,000 educators.
“We’re here to contribute to a country that has opened its doors for us, and I want my students—all of whom are Latino—to see that there is hope for change, and hope that will help [them] succeed,” said Juárez. “Once you lose hope, it’s over. So, I have plenty of hope to keep fighting for students, and for all of us.”
What is DACA?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established in 2012 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as an immigration option which delays immigration action against undocumented individuals if they meet certain criteria.
In September 2017, the Trump Administration issued a memorandum rescinding the establishment of DACA and set forward a plan for phasing out the DACA program. In early 2018, federal courts began examining the Administration’s decision to eliminate the DACA program. Due to federal court orders, DHS has continued the DACA program under the terms in place prior to its rescision in 2017.
As litigation continues as to whether to continue or eliminate the program, DHS has clarified that it will renew requests for individuals who previously had DACA but will not accept requests from individuals who have never been granted deferred action under DACA.
To receive DACA status, immigrants had to be:
- At least 15 years old when applying but under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
- Under the age 16 when entering the United States
- Living in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007
DACA by the Numbers
- 800,000 undocumented youths have been helped by the DACA program. (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
- There are 20,000 immigrants with DACA protection working as educators—nearly 9,000 who work in our nation’s public schools. (The Migration Policy Institute)
- About 22% of undocumented immigrants are under age 25 (The Department of Homeland Security)
- Nine-tenths of DACA survey respondents said they had jobs and 72% were in higher education. (Center for American Progress survey)
Raised in Puerto Rico, Patricia Guadalupe is a bilingual multimedia journalist based in Washington, D.C., covering the capital for both English and Spanish-language media outlets.