Education

School district deploys administrators to calm students’ nerves

Eighth grader Ana Garcia (left) listens to Santa Ana Unified School Board Member Valerie Amezcua and other district administrators who visited her school to listen to student concerns about Donald Trump's election.
Eighth grader Ana Garcia (left) listens to Santa Ana Unified School Board Member Valerie Amezcua and other district administrators who visited her school to listen to student concerns about Donald Trump's election.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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On Monday, hundreds of students in Los Angeles schools walked out of classes to protest the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump.

One hour south, in Santa Ana, school officials tried to head off any protests by sending every administrator from the central office to the district’s 62 schools.

The move was designed "to be out at school sites, to be interacting with students and staff, to alleviate anxiety," said Santa Ana Unified Superintendent Stefanie Phillips. "Just to kind of get a feel for whether there was any kind of angst or protest that was oncoming."

Phillips said 100 central office administrators visited schools on Monday.

Schools across the country are facing the challenge of how to address the country’s larger post-election tensions. Many teachers have used Trump’s election as a teachable moment to talk about how a president gets elected and the difference between campaign rhetoric and the steps a new president needs to take to change laws.

But at Santa Ana and many other schools, educators have found they must step out of their teaching role and reassure students as well.

During the class period just before lunch, Phillips and several other school officials squeezed into student seats in teacher Mike Rodriguez’s ethnic studies class at Spurgeon Intermediate School. Rodriguez activated a “restorative circle,” a method of resolving conflict and addressing behavior problems among students.

“First of all, I don’t like how Donald Trump is talking about us Mexicans, immigrants, or Muslims, or also black people,” said eighth grader Marintia Tinoco.

During the circle, students said they were anxious and fearful about whether and how soon President-elect Trump would carry out his campaign promises to deport undocumented immigrants.

Many students here have family members who are undocumented.

“I want you to know that if you have any concerns or your parents have any concerns that you should reach out to us because we're here to protect you,” Deputy Superintendent Dave Haglund told the students.

Most students did not speak up when their turn came to talk.

The school’s principal said a student whose family supported Trump’s campaign bravely said so last week in one of these circles and that gave students an opportunity to dialogue about the election results.

But on Monday, nearly one week after the election, the tone set by students and the teacher in this class was forward looking.

“What can we do as students to address the situation? What kind of ideas do you have to address the situation?” teacher Mike Rodriguez asked students from a seat in the circle.

“I say, we actually fight this not in violence but in protesting in certain places where they are going to listen to us, where they can’t ignore us,” said eighth grader Yahaira Lopez.

The teacher told students that protest can take many forms, even sending letters to elected officials. On this day, as hundreds of students in Southern California schools walked out of classes to protest Trump’s election, students in Santa Ana schools decided to talk about the issues instead of walking out.