Thursday, July 9, 2015

Paloma's Journey to Elon

As you are probably aware from all of my recent social media postings, I am working with one of my students on a pretty ambitious fundraising campaign to cover the cost of her first year of tuition at Elon University. While I don't think it's my story to tell, I am quite proud of her vulnerability in being a voice for undocumented students and felt compelled to share from my perspective. 

It was a year and a half ago when I sat at my dinning room table with Paloma, her Mom, Dad, and Grandmother, while her younger sister played with Henry in my living room. We were having one of our routine, monthly college planning discussions and I had already known her for a year at this point. As we were going over our concluding items on the agenda and wrapping up our conversation, Paloma said that she needed to tell me something. It was then, that she shared with me that she was undocumented. 

I panicked. I barely felt qualified to coach anyone through the college application process and certainly did not understand the complexities of the process for undocumented students. I felt like I would let her down. I went as far as researching adoption as a potential solution. Through Paloma's honesty and vulnerability in sharing her story, I have learned so much about undocumented students and immigration entirely. She has pushed my perspectives and challenged me to think differently than I ever had and for that, I have forever changed. 

Paloma initially immigrated to the United States with her family when she was two. She enrolled in pre-kindgarden and continued to progress through the school system, always maintaining high academic achievement. In seventh grade, while on a cross country bus trip with her mom and younger sisters, they were stopped and due to lack of documents, they were deported to Mexico. Paloma enrolled in school in Mexico while her little sisters moved back to the US having been born here and given residence status. Paloma made the choice to risk her life to cross the boarder back into the US, for her education. It was dangerous. She was terrified. She was in seventh grade. Hiding in the trunk of a car after crossing the boarder by foot, Paloma and her mom made it back to the US where they returned to Charlotte and Paloma continued with school. 

She persisted with even more commitment to her education which leads us to where I met her as her Algebra II teacher in the IB program at Harding University High School. Despite her circumstances, she continued to work with full relentlessness towards her education in the hopes of going to college, her dream. While the application process certainly posed its challenges, she successfully earned acceptance into three schools. 

Elon had an accepted student day for minority students and I knew, following that weekend, it was where she wanted to be. I felt a great sense of personal responsibility knowing that she missed the opportunity to apply for their scholarship for undocumented students. It was in the fall and we didn't know about it. I felt like I had let her down. To continue with our high hopes after admissions and financial aid denied any further assistance, she launched her Go Fund Me campaign. 

I realize to some it was comical thinking that we could raise $42,000 through an online campaign to cover college tuition. Together, we created a strategic campaign strategy with outreach targets and extensive trackers. We even went as far as planning to tag Hillary Clinton on Instagram. I'm incredibly proud of her each day for making each phone call and sending each email with as much enthusiasm as she did the one before. To a student who has also risked so much, I know these final chapters are terrifying to her.  There's still time and I'm hopeful with the right amount of momentum, this journey can have a happy ending. 

The most exciting part for me has been the overwhelming amount of support from my friends. When I log in to the Go Fund Me account and see names of friends spanning across the past fifteen years of my life, I become too emotional. I'm not implying that I measure friendship by donations but for how much I deeply care about Paloma, it means everything to me that they are supporting her and this journey. They may be indifferent to undocumented students or Elon or education but they are still contributing in some capacity to show their support. For that, I am grateful. I'm doing a horrible job at articulating the emotions right now, but please know, how truly grateful I am for your contributions both financially and socially as a lot of movement has come from the expansion of social networks. I know, I'm always asking for a lot as I am passionate about many causes, and I don't want the generosity to go unnoticed. Every small note, email, check in the mail, status update, and email share has been greatly appreciated by both Paloma and myself. 

There's been quite a bit of stir the past few days from various media outlets. I am excited and hopeful! Please, help us keep the momentum going. 

With the utmost gratitude,


PS. If you haven't invested in her education yet and have a few extra dollars to spare, please consider making a contribution to her Go Fund Me campaign, Paloma's Journey to Elon. I promise, we are an extremely grateful duo.

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