Students from everywhere

Published 1:32 pm Friday, July 1, 2011

Students from across the state assemble on the steps of Reese Phifer at the University of Alabama following the Alabama Scholastic Press Association’s Long Weekend Journalism Camp. Included among them is PHS junior Michael Owens. (Special/Connie Nolen)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“They prefer to be called undocumented immigrants, not illegals,” said the student.

“Okay,” said University of Alabama professor Chip Brantley. “Let’s go with undocumented immigrants living in fear.”

While attending the Alabama Scholastic Press Association’s State Conference for High School Journalists, I met students from everywhere. This annual meeting last weekend at the University of Alabama introduced me to, a new website where, as Ashley Johnson, UA student and ASPA camp counselor explained, “You tag a topic instead of people the way you do on Facebook.”

Professor Brantley continued showing us how to create on, explaining that the site “Allows you to organize storylines covered in other media.”

Brantley looked for an article from a local newspaper featuring a United Methodist bishop calling the recently passed Alabama immigration law, “the meanest law in the country.”

The student asked him to add links to Facebook groups she belongs to associated with undocumented immigrants.

Reading essays, I’ve discovered students who are undocumented immigrants.

These kids are the kids my own kids have grown up with, the girl who wrote “The first English words I spoke aloud were the Pledge of Allegiance when I started kindergarten. I meant those words. I still mean those words today.”

As teachers, we are student advocates. PHS senior English teacher Ryan Dye said, “Literacy and education is a right we all deserve. Isn’t that why we created public education in America?”

One of the best essays I’ve read is titled, “What Does it Mean to Be an American?” written by a girl I have known since she was 7.

This young woman answered her own question at the end of her essay. She wrote “I am Mexican. I am American, and no law can change that.”

While no one wants undocumented immigrants with poor character or criminal records here, innocent children we’ve educated are our community’s children now.

Education empowers children to seek answers. I don’t know the answer to this country’s immigration problems. I do know that I’m teaching the kids who are creative and innovative enough to discover the solutions.

These young people are researching diligently to find ways to continue their educations. With God’s help, everyone working together, using all of our resources, will find the answers.

Connie Nolen can be reached by email at