CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — The Trump administration’s uptick in ICE raids has resulted in fear within immigrant communities. A summit held today at Rutgers Camden is giving teachers the tools they need to help children of immigrants cope.
“For the children fear and anxiety that someone will come and take their family, is very real,” said Sister Karen Deitrich, executive director of Catholic Partnership Schools. This is the 5th year the group has organized the Education Summit, and this year the focus is on “Trauma Sensitive Classrooms and Responsive Schools.”
“The right up in the face reality is parents are planning for what happens if they get deported,” said Deitrich, “they’re telling kids to make sure to memorize phone numbers in case their phone is taken, who they should go to if the parents are taken.”
More than 400 educators packed into classrooms in the Rutgers Camden Theater; more than half, came from Catholic Schools. Deitrich said 65% of their students in K-8 schools are from immigrant families. She said the children’s stress, and anxiety makes it tough for them to focus, so teachers are the first line of defense in many cases.
“Kids can not learn when they are extremely sad, kid can not learn when they are anxious, they can not learn when they are fearful,” said Dr. Lourdes Ferrer, an author, and researcher. She said fear of deportation is just one part of the trauma; another part is bullying.
“How does it feel when you go to school and someone yells at you, ‘why are you here’, how does it feel when you go someplace and people tell you they don’t want you here,” said Ferrer, who is Puerto Rican. “Even if they are born here, they are treated like they should leave.”
Ferrer said teachers must balance reading, writing, and math instruction with trauma support. She said teachers must create a safe environment with structure, but also provide students with the tools they need to deal with their own emotions.
“To help students heal or at least to be able to cope with pain, fear and anxiety,” she said.
Barry Moore is a physical education and music teacher at St. Joe’s in Camden. He deals with children dealing with the trauma of poverty, violence, drug addiction, immigration fear and other issues and works to help them cope.
“We do a lot of community building projects and a lot of community building exercises,” he said , “we also coach kids that they can overcome their circumstances.”
Moore said he’s seen a change in kids once they figure out they can triumph; it has changed him as well.
“This is what I was brought onto their earth to do,” said the 18 year education veteran. “my job is to enlighten and help kids get through what they need to get through.”