While studying in college at the University of Texas in 2012, Luis Juarez-Trevino was biking to the pawnshop to sell his class ring to financially survive another week when he heard President Barack Obama had announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process.
DACA allows select undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines to legally live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Juarez, an undocumented student whose family moved from Monterrey, Mexico to Dallas in 2004, had gone from speaking no English to being a top student at Marsh, W.T. White, and then at UT. However, despite his strong work ethic and eagerness to learn and do well, he figured he had limited chances to make a notable positive impact given his undocumented status.
“I still remember how excited I was when I heard about DACA; it provided a path to the future for me,” he said. “I knew it could change my life.”
Juarez applied for and received DACA status in 2012. Because of the support he received from Dallas ISD teachers who encouraged him and spent time after school to help him learn English, he decided to return to the district as a teacher.
Juarez said he thoroughly enjoys working as a fifth-grade Math and Science Bilingual teacher at Lipscomb Elementary. He added that his background allows him to easily connect with his students and their families, all of whom are Hispanic and some of whom are also undocumented.
“Two of the most important parts of being a teacher are parent motivation and student engagement. Because I’m undocumented and come from a similar background of many of my students’ families, being able to connect with the students and parents on a much deeper level directly translates into the success I’ve seen inside of the classroom,” he said.
On Friday, the White House will honor Juarez as a “Champion of Change” for his work in Dallas ISD to empower and encourage his students. Juarez is one of nine educators from across the U.S. being honored at the event. The program will feature remarks by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, and actress and immigrants’ rights advocate Diane Guerrero.
Roxanne Rodriquez, the principal of Lipscomb Elementary who also taught Juarez when he was in seventh-grade, said she was very proud of Juarez’ accomplishments.
“He is intentional about building relationships with his students and their families while delivering quality instruction daily,” Rodriquez said. “He could have taught at any school in any district. Lipscomb Elementary and Dallas ISD is fortunate to have him.”
For his part, Juarez said he is ecstatic about getting to visit Washington D.C. and go inside the White House, which he has only seen from the other side of the fence.
“Being an immigrant student, now knowing English at all, my chances were slim of being able to graduate high school, much less succeed in life,” Juarez said. “I constantly tell my students that they have to take the initiative to succeed, no one else can do that for them. But if you take the initiative and are motivated, great things can and do happen.”