Principal Angelia Ross knows firsthand how global events can intersect with the everyday lives of Texas teachers.
Ross oversees the Fort Worth school district's International Newcomer Academy, which serves immigrant and refugee students who are beginning their public education journeys after their families left their homelands. There, students work to gain academic ground as they learn English.
At the academy, Ross said, teachers are inspired by theirs students' quest for an American dream: “They can have bigger dreams now that they are here.”
Whether it is wars, natural disasters or an immigrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, teachers are often among those who first welcome young immigrants and refugees as they build new lives in U.S. cities.
As recent news centered on the plight of immigrant children separated from their parents, Ross didn't rule out that some of these children will likely end up in Texas classrooms.
That's a view shared by the Texas State Teachers Association, which urged Gov. Greg Abbott and state Education Commissioner Mike Morath to develop and fund a plan for evaluating and providing education services to immigrant children who were separated from their families as part of President Donald Trump's zero tolerance policy.
"We don't know how long these children will be in Texas, but as long as they are here, the state of Texas has a moral obligation to educate them," said teachers association President Noel Candelaria in a recent press release, adding that educators can offer comfort and provide educational opportunities for immigrant children while they are here.
It's unclear where the children impacted by the zero tolerance policy will end up. In the past, unaccompanied minors ended up in school districts as they joined family members or caregivers in communities across the country.
"Teachers will deal with this trauma long after the headlines have faded," said Anael Luebanos, a Fort Worth school trustee who touts his immigrant biography.
Delivering an education
The Texas Education Agency said the education of children in immigrant shelters lies solely with the federal government.
"These services are generally provided to students in its custody through its contractors. Local school districts may to choose to voluntarily provide services. However, such an arrangement would have to be worked out directly with federal officials," said Lauren Callahan, spokesperson with the TEA told the Star-Telegram in an email.
TSTA's Candelaria wants educators allowed into detention centers to evaluate the children's educational needs.
When immigrant youngsters move into a shelter under the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they have access to learning. In South Texas, news reports indicate that the Brownsville school district may partner with Southwest Keys Programs Inc., which operates shelters for immigrant children.
In Fort Worth, a shelter operated by Catholic Charities offers classes to immigrant children. The classes are taught by a Fort Worth school district teacher who visits the shelter.
Clint Bond, spokesman for the district, said the district doesn't offer teaching services at detention centers.
"We usually receive children after they have been placed in foster care by groups such as Catholic Charities," Bond said in an email. "We are required to accept any child who lives within the District. They will be assessed for their educational level and placed in a school that best suits their needs, as any new child to the District would be. Our acceptance and service to these children would be the same as we provided for those displaced by (Hurricane) Katrina."
Under the federal Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court case, states can't deny students a free public education because they lack an immigration status.
'Thirty-nine countries, 37 languages'
The student body at the International Newcomer Academy in Fort Worth reflects refugee and immigrant trends that have made headlines. For example, the campus has welcomed refugees from African countries that have experienced wars or unrest such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.
“I have 39 countries, 37 languages,” Ross said.
Ross said their enrollments also reflect immigrant patterns and the nation's rules for refugee resettlement — when families are coming or the rules for refugee status tighten — the academy gets less students.
Last year, the academy's enrollment was 500 with about 40 percent refugees and 60 percent immigrants. The enrollment for the upcoming school year is 168, Ross said.
Students get acclimated to Texas classrooms for one year at the campus and then move to a neighborhood campus. Students served are those who would typically be in grades 6 through 9.
As they learn math or U.S. history, teachers must “be aware of the trauma that the students are going through even while sitting in the classroom,” Ross said.
“The kids who are coming to our school, they want a safe environment,” Ross said, adding that they work with families and community partners to help families.
Ross, who taught for eight years before becoming an administrator, said she has taught students who have fled El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in classrooms. Youngsters from these countries have also attended the academy and shared worries about gang violence or threats in their home countries, she said.
Often Ross sees how students help each other or forge new friendships. She said educators smile when they overhear how the youngsters immerse themselves in a new Texas life.
“I teach you Spanish you teach me Somali,” Ross said, alluding to one exchange.
“When they come to my school they believe this is family," Ross said. "Everyone is their family regardless of where they come from.”