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NYC school staff need to be better educated in Dream Act process

Advocates want more New York City school staff to be better educated in how to guide undocumented high school seniors through Dream Act application process. 

The Dream Act grants undocumented students access to state grants and scholarships, like the Excelsior scholarship, to help finance higher education. The act was signed by Governor Cuomo into law in April after state legislators passed the bill in January. The bill was introduced by state lawmakers every year since 2013 and was finally after to pass after Democrats took control of the state Senate, which had not been done in over a decade. 

“Applying to college has been a roller coaster of an experience for me,” said Jessica Garcia, from Make the Road, a nonprofit focused on fighting for immigrant rights causes. Garcia read a statement from named Anais Fierros who was undocumented during her high school years during a rally on the steps of Tweed Courthouse. Fierros wrote that during the college application process, her dreams of becoming a nurse were repeatedly crushed when she first learned that her status would prevent her from taking the state nursing board and again when she learned that the selection of scholarships for undocumented students was tiny. The idea of applying for jobs so that she could support herself through school was “out of the question.”

The Dream Act was finally opening a door, though. But Fierros has not gotten more information on the financial support available to her because her guidance counselors “are not fully informed.” The application is a two-part process where students have to first prove their eligibility. Then students need to fill out an a New York state Higher Education Service Corporation Process application to then be able to apply for individual grants and scholarships. 

According to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, since the passage of the Dream Act coaches at 150 high schools were trained in the Dream Act eligibility and the New York state Higher Education Service Corporation Process. The HESC is the entity in charge of the application process and has yet to report on the number of students taking advantage of the DREAM Act, according to Politico. Chancellor Carranza added that the DOE 1,400 educators from over 300 schools received training on the application processes. 

“We look forward to continuing our partnership and to share resources on the Dream Act as widely as possible and we hope that our students and families will take advantage,” said Carranza. “College is for everyone.”

But that effort has not been enough. According to Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa, lead sponsor of the bill during this past legislative session, there were “flukes” in “getting the information out” after the bill became law.

It is unclear exactly what those flukes were but the Assemlymember added  that a shortage of social workers and guidance counselors at New York City Schools was part of the problem. As well as the fact that guidance counselors might find it difficult to understand the legal jargon in the application process. 

“They need training to figure that out they are not immigration lawyers,” said De La Rosa. “They don’t know what an S visa versus a V visa is.” Educator training would also include clarifying who is eligible, what the process looks and the what the timeline is the for the Dream Act application process. 

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