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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Barnard Elementary School marches for immigrants' rights

Written by Hannah Ehlers
Barnard writing coach

“Build bridges, not walls!” was a popular chant at Barnard’s immigration rally last week. For their service-learning project, the DC SCORES Barnard Bears marched to nearby Grant Circle, chanting supportive slogans and holding up their handmade signs. Students’ signs read “America is best together!” and “Love trumps hate!” Neighbors waved and clapped and cars slowed and honked as two dozen third-fifth grade students marched past. The Barnard Bears got their message across: immigrants are welcome here.

In the weeks prior to the rally, I guided the Barnard student-athletes through the service-learning process. As their service-learning coach, I was eager to see the direction they would choose to take. We began by looking closely at their community, examining its positive and negative aspects. As a class, we discussed what the students appreciate -- the friendliness of neighbors, the multiculturalism. And we discussed what they thought should change -- the amount of trash on the streets, the violence. Students focused particularly on discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Several students expressed how many of their immigrant friends and family feel scared and unwelcome as a result of the current political climate and its real-life manifestations.

We then researched and learned about the history of immigration in the United States, the immigrant communities of Washington, DC, and we read about Mayor Muriel Bowser’s new legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants. We discussed the many reasons that people immigrate to this country and shared some of our own families’ immigration stories. The DC SCORES Barnard Bears come from all over the world, from El Salvador and Nigeria, from Eritrea and Guatemala, from Mexico and beyond. Finally, the Bears voted on and chose as their project title, “Keep the American Dream Alive.”

Now it was time for action! The Barnard Bears knew they wanted to help make everyone in the community feel safe and welcome, but how exactly would they do it? The poet-athletes brainstormed and decided that they would hold a rally to show support for immigrants. They had seen protests and rallies in the news and understood that it could be an effective way to create change. Together, the class decided on their project plan -- we would choose a location and date for the rally; we would write letters to the principal and school community to tell them all about our plans; we would create posters and write speeches; and when the day of the rally came, we would document it so that we could further spread our message on social media.

Finally, rally day was here! The students lined up with their posters and began the march to Grant Circle. Once we arrived at the circle, some of the students gave mini-speeches. Dairelynn declared, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor!” In unison, Brian and Cordell yelled, “We support immigrants!” Cars honked in encouragement and passersby smiled and waved. I asked how the students were feeling; they felt powerful and heard. No one could deny their message.

The Bears returned to the school chanting, “Barnard welcomes everyone!”

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