After Donald Trump won the election, Seth Kolker said that many of his students at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island became concerned about their futures. Questions like “Will my parents be deported? Will I still be able to go to school?” were just a few of the questions he was left answering.
Kolker has been a math teacher in Central Falls for two years. Central Falls is the smallest, densest city in the state with a large Latino immigrant population. Once Donald Trump became the president-elect, his students were “surprised,” said Kolker; they had been worried his rhetoric on immigration.
Kolker said students wanted to do something; he mentioned the D.C. march, and the students suggested going.
On Friday, January 20th, 44 teens from Central Falls High and three other area schools traveled to D.C. for the historic march.
“Kids who are lonely won’t feel alone, and kids who are marginalized will feel like they are front and center at the march,” said Kolker.
Many of the students are leaving the state for the very first time, and many of them will play a part in the democratic process for the first time in their lives.
“I’m very nervous, but excited,” Central Falls 12th grader Katerine Campo Rivera said. “I want the world to be united and understand the struggles of people who are undocumented, without all the violence.”
Of the 44 students going on the 2-day excursion, more than half of them are Latino. Kolker said the project to take students to march in the parade is independent of the school district.
“We aren’t against anything or anyone. We’re not there to protest. We are there for human rights,” he said.
Blackstone Academy student Caroline Berdugo is a documented Colombian who has been living in the States for five years. She said it’s not about Trump for her, it’s about her family and people she knows.
“It’s a march and I’m speaking for women and immigrant rights, not about being hateful to Trump,” Berdugo said.
Immigrant rights seem to be one of the main reasons why the Rhode Island students applied to go on the historic excursion. Abdiel Soto, a 9th grader at Central Falls High School, said that for him it’s important that his voice gets heard; the Women’s March is a way to do that. “I want to show people that immigrants have a reason to be here. They work hard every day, they deserve to be respected, too,” he said.
Dozens of local organizations contributed to the project, making it an all-expenses paid excursion for every student. Along with attending the march, the students will have a mini-retreat on Friday night.
While some might say that Kolker should focus on teaching lessons instead of activism, Kolker says it’s not about activism by any means. “This is just young participants participating in democracy,” he said.
Berdugo hopes that bringing all these people together will open the eyes of many across the country. “People like to be prejudiced towards immigrants without understanding the struggles and hardships,” said the young student. “I want people to understand we all go through obstacles, but we are also making meaningful contributions to society.”