STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Student and school prepare for a father's deportation

charlie and his family

This story has been updated to reflect new information. 

Our State of Opportunity project has been following the story of a little boy named Charlie. His dad was scheduled to be deported this week and his school was scrambling to figure out how to support him.  But today things changed. Charlie’s dad, Jose Luis Sanchez-Ronquillo was granted a stay of removal this afternoon. That means he has another year to make the case he should be allowed to stay in the United States.  

Until today, in the neighborhood surrounding this Ann Arbor elementary flyers have been urgently circulating, passed out by parents and others trying to stop the deportation. At the center of all the activity is one seven year old boy who up until today thought he was going to lose his dad.

Charlie’s in second grade at this school, which is my neighborhood elementary school. The school found itself scrambling to support a child in the middle of a serious family crisis, complete with nightmares that his dad was gone. “One time I felt as if it was happening for real,” he says. “My eyes were closed I walked out of my bed. Then my brother just woke me up and took me back to bed.”

Charlie’s teacher is Ann Ward. She says normally he’s a typical kid. “He’s a great student. He’s very active. He’s eager to learn, eager to please…He loves math”

But Ward says Charlie was emotional and quick to react during the past few weeks. School principal Hyeuo Park says Charlie was behaving as lots of kids in trauma would.

“In fact he and I had a heart to heart and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I’m not doing anything until my dad stays,’” Park recalls.  “And so it’s this child’s psychological way of having power to do something.”

Park and Ward say they were learning how to support a child in the middle of a deportation battle but they didn’t have much of a playbook.

“We don’t have any specific training,” Ward says. Park adds, “I’ve been in education for 17 years and I’ve never had this situation before.”

Helping kids navigate tough situations at home is part of the job for people who work in schools. Sometimes, as in this case, so is ending up a community hub and being stuck navigating sticky political issues. Park says they do the best they can. “We’re not trying to take sides,  nothing political about the immigration laws,” he emphasizes. He adds,  “I would want to be at a school  where a school supports children.”

Increased immigration enforcement means more schools in the state are likely to deal with the issue of deportation. This school may deal with it again.

But the staff is here is moving on and getting ready to support the next child that may be facing a trauma.  Park says, “Fortunately or unfortunately kids are affected in school by what’s going on at home. You can’t cut those two in half.”

The next situation may be much less public than this deportation, but it will be no less important to the child involved. 

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