“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” —Franklin Delano Roosevelt

On a breezy early summer day, a group of Latina teachers walking through Washington, DC, happened upon a life-size bronze sculpture of 140 migrants huddled together in a small boat, titled “Angels Unawares.”

They found the sculpture—a second casting of the original in St. Peter’s Square commissioned by Pope Francis to honor migrants and refugees—on their first day in the city, after attending Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception nearby.

It felt like a sign.

The 15 teachers, who are almost all immigrants to the US themselves, were in DC to learn more about American history and government, with support from Notre Dame’s English as a New Language program through the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). But first, they took a moment to reflect on their own journeys and how they fit into the larger history of migration—from the Holy Family to the present day.

A group of teachers observe the Angels Unawares sculpture, a bronze sculpture of migrants and refugees from various lands crowded on a 20-foot boat at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. A close up of the Angels Unawares sculpture, a bronze sculpture of migrants and refugees from various lands crowded on a 20-foot boat at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Spanish immersion teachers gaze at "Angels Unawares," by Timothy Schmalz, at Catholic University in Washington, DC. The bronze sculpture depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various lands and historical eras— including the Holy Family—crowded onto a 20-foot boat.

“The statue evoked many feelings in me—empathy, sadness, nostalgia,” said Zoadi Paguada, a second-grade teacher at Holy Cross School in South Bend, Indiana. “I thought about the precise moment when these people came onto the boat. The suffering on some faces, the fear and the joy on others. Regardless of age, race, religion, ideologies, or economic status, we all have dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem. And if we do not embark on the ship, we will never achieve them.

“Many of us are migrants and in order to be here in the United States, we have had to go through fear and uncertainty but, above all, the joy of starting a new life full of opportunities.”

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

The trip to Washington for Paguada and her fellow Catholic school teachers was inspired by a display of student projects and a simple question.

Last winter, the hallways of Holy Cross School on South Bend’s west side were papered with student reports and brightly colored posters on America’s national landmarks: Mount Rushmore. The Washington Monument. The Liberty Bell.

The projects were the work of third-grade students in the school’s dual-language, Spanish-English immersion program, launched in 2017 in collaboration with ACE and the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame.

When ACE program coordinator Clare Roach stopped to admire the students’ work, she asked one of the Spanish immersion teachers guiding the projects if she had visited any of the monuments.

Not a one, she replied.

A close up of a hand touching the Vietname War Memorial. Hanny Lacruz from Venezuela and a teacher at Holy Cross School, tours the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The Korean War memorial, which shows 19 stainless steel statues represent a platoon on patrol.
The 15 teachers, who represented dual-language Catholic schools in four states, visited the Vietnam War Memorial, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Korean War Memorial as part of a tour of DC to deepen their understanding of American history and civics.

“At that moment, I thought, ‘These teachers need to see and learn from these sites in person,’” Roach said. “They are here providing an invaluable service to children and are tasked with teaching American history and civics standards, but they don’t necessarily have the breadth of content knowledge that comes from decades of lived experience in the United States or the shared experiences of going through American schools themselves. Experiencing these places firsthand will make them even better educators.”

Roach, who helped grow the Spanish immersion program at Holy Cross School as the coordinator of ACE’s dual language programs, began planning a trip she termed “Immersion Squared”—an immersive US history and civics experiential learning program in Washington for dual-language teachers in Spanish language immersion classrooms.

In June, with funding from ACE’s Advancing Latino and Multilingual Learner Achievement initiative and a local community foundation, Roach led the group of pre-K to middle school teachers from across the country on a four-day tour to build social studies knowledge by visiting some of the most iconic sites and artifacts in the nation’s capital.

For Ruth Torok, who was born in Costa Rica and recently became a US citizen, the trip was an incredible opportunity to learn more about the country she has embraced.

“I loved having this chance to expand my knowledge of civics and learn more about this new home of mine,” said Torok, who teaches third grade at St. Matthew Catholic School in Phoenix, Arizona. “I learned more of the personal history of the founders of our democracy and the stories of those who have struggled for freedom and fought for equality for all in our country. And it was amazing to take the tours surrounded by people who, despite coming from different places, share a common love for teaching in our native language. It has been an incredibly enriching experience.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” —Declaration of Independence

Over the course of the next several days, the teachers—who represented nine Latin American countries of origin—took advantage of every moment. They visited the White House, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court. They traveled to the estate of George Washington at Mount Vernon and walked the National Mall to see memorials honoring American leaders and heroes, including Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.

A group of teachers pose for a picture with the Washington Monument in the background. A statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting on a bench at his memorial in Washington, D.C. Teachers stand in front of the Stone of Hope granite state at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Zoadi Paguada takes a selfie while wearing sunglesse. In the background is the Washinton Monument.
Zoadi Paguada, a second grade teacher at Holy Cross School in South Bend, takes a selfie in front of the Washington Monument. The educators walked the National Mall and West Potomac Park to see memorials honoring American leaders and heroes.

A visit to the National Archives—where they saw original documents including the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence—was especially meaningful for Magda Arguello, a kindergarten teacher at Holy Cross School in South Bend, Indiana.

Arguello, who was born and raised in Paraguay, lived in Spain for a decade before moving to the United States five years ago. She is now in the process of obtaining US citizenship. At the archives, she was so moved by seeing the documents that she purchased a copy of the Constitution to take home to her children and a shirt with the Declaration of Independence printed on it that she hopes to wear during her citizenship ceremony.

“I am delighted to live and teach here in the United States, and I am deeply committed to my educational work,” she said. “When I came to the US, I could not speak English well, but I have found so many opportunities here to learn and grow. Still, I never completely felt the United States belonged to me. My husband is from here. My children are from here. But I didn’t feel that this country was mine—until now.

“Visiting Washington, DC, has made me realize that this country belongs to all of us.”

During their time in the US Capitol, the group also met with Rep. Rudy Yakym of Indiana’s second district, who is a Notre Dame alumnus. Yakym gave them a tour and brought them to watch a vote happening on the House floor.

“I loved the Capitol visit. It was such a unique experience to talk with a member of Congress and to witness a live vote,” Arguello said. “Rep. Yakym was so kind to include us in his day, and the experience highlighted the hospitality and generosity of everyone we met on the trip.”

“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” —Francis Scott Key

On their final night in DC, the group traveled to Baltimore—where Francis Scott Key composed The Star-Spangled Banner—to attend a Baltimore Orioles game as guests of the Croteau family. Joe and Marcia Croteau, proud Notre Dame parents (Michael ’10, ’12) and supporters, shared another piece of American culture with the teachers.

On the way to Camden Yards, Roach and the teachers discussed the history and significance of the anthem and practiced the lyrics. And once there, they proudly sang along with the enthusiastic crowds. Given all they had just experienced, the words took on new meaning, said María Rodriguez, a teacher at Archbishop Borders Dual Language School in Baltimore, who is originally from the Dominican Republic.

“I felt so proud to understand and sing the most recognizable anthem in the world, honoring its importance as a symbol of the United States,” she said.

Eleven spanish immersion teachers and Claire Roach pose for a picture with Camden Yard in the background. Several teachers and Claire Roach stand with donors Joe and Marcia Croteau outside the gate to Camden Yard.
Joe and Marcia Croteau invited the teachers to take in an Orioles game at Camden Yards in Baltimore to experience another piece of American culture and to hear the national anthem sung in context.
Maria Rodriguez sings the national anthem with the other teachers at the opening of the baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.
Maria Rodriguez, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, said the words to the Star-Spangled Banner took on new meaning after all she had seen and learned in DC.

Not only did the teachers appreciate learning more about American history and government, but they also loved having the chance to connect more deeply with each other and to talk about their unique experiences as immigrant and dual-language teachers.

“For me, it was a special moment to be with the other teachers from all different countries,” said Esmeralda Elvir, who has taught third- through sixth-grade classes at Bishop McNamara Catholic School in Joliet, Illinois. “Where I live and work, I don’t have the opportunity to share with many Latino teachers. I enjoyed speaking together in our mother tongue and sharing ideas and resources about how to become better educators.”

Those types of interactions are invaluable, as dual-language immersion schooling is proving to be a powerful, transformative model, said Katy Lichon, an associate teaching professor and director of the Catholic School Advantage program and ACE English as a New Language Program.

ACE, which is part of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, has developed a multifaceted approach to supporting dual-language programming—which is an ideal fit for Catholic schools, Lichon said.

Two centuries ago, Catholic schools were founded in the United States to serve immigrant communities and others on the margins. As today’s Catholic parishes and schools become increasingly diverse, the Church is called upon to adopt more inclusive practices that bring together all members of their communities, she said.

“Unlike traditional classrooms, dual-language programs view students’ home languages and cultures as resources for learning, not barriers to their mastery of English,” Lichon said. “We firmly believe that by helping schools leverage the linguistic assets and cultural richness of students and families, they will become places to gain knowledge and skills, work through differences, encounter others, and prepare the next generation to be a powerful force for good in our world.

“Through this work, our Church and schools will not only be serving these communities, they will be transformed by them.”

The teachers plan to keep in touch throughout the coming year, starting with a Zoom meeting on July 4 to celebrate Independence Day together. And, this summer, they will each be planning age-appropriate lessons for their classes that incorporate what they saw and learned on the trip.

For Elvir, who just accepted a position as an assistant principal at Bishop McNamara School, she plans to do a special unit on American history and civics in a program she launched for immigrant parents and families of her students several years ago, called “Parent University.”

“The beautiful thing about this trip is that it doesn’t end here,” she said. “This is just the beginning of the ripple effect, where we go back to the classroom and we share all that we have learned, first among ourselves with the lesson plans that we will create, and then with our students and their families. This trip will continue to have a lasting impact on so many people for years to come.”

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