- Published on 04 May 2010
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by Alissa Skelton
The Crete News
While Arizona is giving Hispanics reason to stay away, Crete educators are doing everything possible to blur culture lines and promote education for their immigrant students and families.
More and more families are joining their already settled families in Crete. Hispanic immigrants migrate to Crete in hopes to find the American dream — a thriving education system, a welcoming community and a steady paycheck — and they find it though Crete Public Schools, Blue River Family Resource Center and Farmland.
“I think immigrants come to Crete because families see the good education system and good community,” said Karen Buchfinck, a bilingual Crete High School counselor.
Crete demographics have been changing since the early 2000s when the Crete Public Schools had a 7 percent Hispanic population. Today, it is estimated that 42.6 percent of students are Hispanic immigrants.
CPS not only offers a competitive education, but also acts as a support system for families. Every child is worth an education is the common consensus among the school district’s top leaders. Superintendent Kyle McGowan is adamant about focusing on education rather than race.
“My perception is we serve every child that comes knocking on our door,” he said. “The law has made it clear that the school is not the police. We are responsible for educating.”
Crete educators have the same sentiment as McGowan, and work together to assist CPS’s Hispanic immigrants. Buchfinck says she is “one piece in a great big pie” among teachers who are dedicated to assisting immigrants whether they are documented or not.
Hired in 2004, Buchfinck came to Crete with little knowledge about immigration’s impact on students. Since, she knows far beyond the average person about immigration.
“I educated myself on immigration issues because I want to understand immigrant families’ situations,” she said.
She has attended immigration seminars, and has become somewhat of an immigration activist. In March 2010, she attended March for America in Washington D.C. on behalf of Nebraska Appleseed and Crete schools to share an educator’s perspective on immigration reform. Nebraska Appleseed is a non-profit working to promote integration and advocacy.
Buchfinck’s presence at the D.C. immigration rally exemplified the fiery passion many Crete educators have about immigration reform. Jennifer Wickard, a CHS English Language Learners teacher, is just one who supports immigration reform. Though she doesn’t have the exact solution, she wants life to be easier on her students and their families who are so eager to contribute to the community.
Wickard joined the CHS ELL staff three years ago when the ELL program expanded its resources to adapt to the student influx. At the high school alone there are about 50 students in the program. There are seven full-time ELL teachers and one part-time in Crete Public Schools.
“The more we can educate the better off we are as a community,” Wickard said.
CPS is not the only educational system paying attention to the increasing immigration population — Doane College is too. The education department is putting more emphasis on diversity education and multi-cultural awareness. In the classroom, future teachers are learning about the life realities of Hispanic and Spanish society.
“I have a perplexed understanding of why we are so fixated on opposing immigration reform issues when as a society we clearly benefit culturally,” said Linda Kalbach, an education professor. “I think that human beings are human beings, they contribute to society and educating them is our responsibility.”
Another branch of the community that supports educating immigrants is the Blue River Family Resource Center which also houses Crete Public School Special Programs. It offers a support system for families in a number of ways. The most popular services include childcare, preschool, English language classes and/or GED programs. Jan Sears, director of CPS special programs, calls the center a hidden treasure because few know of the plethora of services it offers. Mostly new community members utilize Blue River’s resources.
About 200 adults fully utilize the free English language classes and there is a wait list for the classes. There is also a wait list for the free GED program.
“Regardless of what people say, families definitely want to learn English and the numbers prove that,” Sears said.
Preschool enrollment is also booming because most of the staff is bilingual and can teach English to children before they attend the grade school. Spanish is a first language for 62 percent of Blue River preschoolers.
“At Blue River we are changing the way they interact in the community just by educating them,” said Josie Filipi of the family liaison division.
Filipi teaches citizenship classes twice a year and has helped over 200 people gain citizenship. Twenty-four years ago Filipi remembers emigrating from Mexico and then becoming a naturalized citizen. She feels helping others gain citizenship is her duty.
“I’m doing exactly what somebody else did for me,” she said. “I can guide Hispanic immigrants the best way because I’ve been through it.”
Along with solid education system and family assistance, there are also numerous employment opportunities though companies like Farmland, a pork processing plant.
Farmland employs hundreds of Hispanic workers at competitive wages and is the largest employer in the area. Farmland has a strong partnership with the educational system and Blue River. The company donates food and sponsors education though scholarships and donations. Superintendent McGowan said he keeps in close contact with Farmland to help families find employment.
“The sheer size of their employees warns us to keep a good partnership with them,” McGowan said.
As far as educators, Blue River and Farmland are concerned, policies like Arizona’s will not be implemented in Crete or Nebraska. Most agreed that border protection is important but Arizona’s identification tactic was going too far.
“There is not a need for the new law,” Wickard said. “Arizona has problems with immigration, but at the same time, requiring people to show identification is not something you can do. It’s wrong.”
Kalbach agreed, adding she questions the constitutionality of the law and she might boycott Arizona.
“The law in Arizona is a major reaction of a section of the society that is misguided,” Kalbach said. “It borders racism and racial profiling.”