Feature stories

Journeys ‘toward a better future’

Brooklyn school holds Day of Democracy to listen to immigrant parents’ stories

Teachers Alison Dempsey (left) and Maria Koutras listen as parents of the childrJonathan FickiesTeachers Alison Dempsey (left) and Maria Koutras listen as parents of the children in their 4th-grade class recount their journeys.

Family members pick up information on city resources provided by the Mayor’s OffJonathan FickiesFamily members pick up information on city resources provided by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.   The 4th-graders participating in a Day of Democracy at PS 503 on May 1 in Sunset Park saw pretty quickly what their classmate has always known. “My mom is very brave,” said the 9-year-old.

Her mother left behind her own parents — her father was severely disabled and unable to work — and her little sisters when she made the journey from Mexico to the United States. “I was 14,” the mother said.

Fourth-grade integrated co-teaching teachers Alison Dempsey and Maria Koutras invited their students’ parents to share their stories of exile, sacrifice and success at the schoolwide event timed to coincide with May Day. (The school shares a building with PS 506, which also took part in the celebration.)

“She was the first to tell her story, and she was choking up while she talked,” said Dempsey. “Going first is another form of bravery.”

Adult after adult rose to tell the 4th-graders of family and country left behind. Mandarin and Spanish language translators helped where English failed.

The children, their teachers and the speakers themselves teared up as they talked of leaving Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala and China for this country.

“To a one, it was a journey toward a better future for themselves and for their children,” said Koutras. “By listening to their parents’ stories, we wanted the children to understand that they live with real heroes.”

The Day of Democracy began with the unveiling of a colorful mural painted by 4th- and 5th-graders under the guidance of teaching artists Joiri Minaya and Jose Rodriguez.

Parent Juan Lopez listens to a presentation.Jonathan FickiesParent Juan Lopez listens to a presentation. When classroom activities were over, parents from both schools were invited to the auditorium where representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the New York Legal Assistance Group led workshops and were on hand to answer questions and offer guidance.

A school counselor helped parents find the words to reassure their children, many of whom have grown increasingly anxious that an immigration agent will appear at their door and take away their parents.

In the 28 years that she has been in the United States, the mom who spoke first to the class has reared a son and a daughter, both school chess champs, and with her husband, has supported the family.

“I came to this country to work hard and make a better life,” she said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing. Working hard and making a better life for my children.”

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