October 9, 2018
NYU DC Dialogues and the Peace Corps Community for Refugees hosted an evening of discussion led by keynote speaker, Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, who has become one of the nation's leading advocates in support of immigrant and refugee students in the nation's public schools. Like thousands of other U.S. educators who started their professional lives in the Peace Corps, Manning began her teaching career in 1999 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia.
Last May, when the veteran high school teacher from Spokane, Washington received her award from President Trump at the White House, she hand delivered to the president more than 40 letters from her immigrant and refugee students chronicling their difficult but largely successful experiences in the United States. Manning has been speaking out about her students and what America means to them to national audiences ever since.
Following Manning's address, local refugee and immigrant residents shared their stories joined by leaders from faith-based groups who discussed successful ways everyone can mobilize local support for immigrants and refugees in the DC area.
Veronica Olivera, a native of Bolivia and a successful student in Northern Virginia, joined Mandy Manning at the podium and talked about her arduous journey to the United States in the winter of 2015 and why continuing her education in the United States is her highest priority.
Mandy Manning teaches English to newly arrived refugee and immigrant students in the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. In her classroom, Mandy uses experiential projects like map-making to help her students process trauma, celebrate their home countries and culture, and learn about their new community. As 2018 National Teacher of the Year, Mandy will encourage educators to teach their students to overcome their fears and seek out new experiences.
Mandy strives to create connections between her students and the community inside and outside of the school. Her students work in the student store and she encourages other students to visit and volunteer in the Newcomer Center. She also invites district leaders, campus resource officers, community members of color, and professional writers to visit her classroom. The visits help her students learn cultural expectations and how to express themselves effectively. In return, her students teach these leaders where they come from, who they are, and the beauty they add to the school district.
Mandy has taught for the past 18 years, six of which have been in her current role. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Eastern Washington University, a Masters of Arts from West Texas A & M University, and a Masters of Fine Arts from Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Mandy is a National Board Certified Teacher.
I’ve learned how to be fearless from my students. I teach immigrant refugee students. My students have gone through unspeakable circumstances to come to the United States, a nation that gives them hope to be someone. I watch their innate hopefulness and fearlessness in coming into this new community, a community that in many ways has not welcomed them. They come to school everyday; they’re focused, they’re dedicated, they’re committed to their dreams, and becoming productive members of society and citizens. So, all I have to do is look at them, and they teach me how to be fearless.
- From NEA Today, June 12, 2018
Jennifer Cormeny is Director of Family Services for Lutheran Social Services in the National Capital Area. Jennifer, LICSW, LCSW-C, is a native Washingtonian who began working in child welfare in 1996. For the past two decades she has committed herself to the safety, permanence and well-being of children/youth and families in the District of Columbia and Maryland. She has worked at Lutheran Social Services since 2015.
Valerie Kurka is a Community Engagement Coordinator for the Peace Corps Community for Refugees. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Tanzania where she was a secondary school chemistry and physics teacher. Since returning in 2008, Valerie has been involved in several refugee resettlement programs and initiatives, including her current position on the development team at HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency in Silver Spring, MD. She holds a M.Ed. in International Education from the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.
Elizabeth Mandelman, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at HIAS, has extensive experience advocating on behalf of refugees for nearly five years. She previously worked on Capitol Hill and in the state legislature in Minnesota.
Hassan Mozaffari is an Afghan immigrant who came to the U.S. a year ago with his wife Faiza and their two children. He is a certified management accountant who works as Deputy Manager - Finance at VFS Services (USA) Inc. Hassan and Faiza qualified for Special Immigrant Visas because they had worked for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractor for many years in Afghanistan.
Pat Nyhan is part of the Advocacy/Communications team at PCC4Refugees. A former journalist, she traces her commitment to refugees to her Peace Corps service in Afghanistan. She has mentored Afghan refugees in Maine in the 1980s and here in D.C. last year.
Andrea Prejean is Director of Teacher Quality for the National Education Association (NEA) and a former teacher herself. She currently heads a department that supports policy and practice issues that can improve the quality of teaching in our public schools. In 2016 she received the Jocelyn Graves Award for Distinguished Service in Public Education by the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.