Basalt High School makes recent immigrants feel welcome despite national uncertainty | AspenTimes.com

Basalt High School makes recent immigrants feel welcome despite national uncertainty

Recent immigrants and their families attend a special Thanksgiving dinner at Basalt High School last year. The annual event bridges the cultural gap and creates a safe and welcoming environment.

One year after the election of Donald Trump as president, the mood has changed but the uncertainty over immigration policy still rattles the nerves of many students at Basalt High School and their families.

The school will hold its annual Thanksgiving Dinner tonight to help acquaint recent immigrants and their families with that most American of traditions and to send a welcoming message. The annual dinner was created by Basalt High teacher Leticia Ingram, who helps with the English Language Development program.

"Instead of building the walls that we always hear about, this helps bring the walls down," Ingram said.

Roughly 90 students who have been in Basalt for three years or less and their families were invited to the fifth annual Thanksgiving dinner. Ingram, other teachers and some students who have gone through the English Language Development program in prior years have gone door to door in recent weekends to give the families of newcomers a personal invitation to the dinner.

Many of the newcomers have recently arrived from Mexico or Central America. Mayda Torres, family liaison at Basalt High School, said many of the newcomers don't know about the Thanksgiving dinner tradition. They seem curious and want to learn about it, she said.

As a liaison, Torres works with newcomers and their families to make sure they find the community resources that fulfill their needs. She does everything from helping Spanish speakers register for high school classes to directing them to medical care.

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Last year at this time, many newcomers were worried about new immigration policies by President Trump. This year, they have specific concerns.

"Last year it was more about the president," Torres said.

The fate still needs to be settled for Dreamers — students and young adults who were brought into the country illegally by their families when they were minors. Deferments for immigrants from some Central America countries already have ended or been targeted for future action, adding to the angst of many young students.

"They're still concerned about what will happen," Torres said of young immigrants.

Ingram said the school staff and students work hard to assure the newcomers they are welcome despite the national politics.

"It's all about feeling safe and accepted," she said.

Principal Peter Mueller and Assistant Principal Meagan Baiardo said the school and community have embraced the Thanksgiving dinner. That's vital since between 350 and 400 people are expected for the dinner this year.

Students work as hosts and wait staff. A small army of volunteers helps with preparing the school commons. The Roaring Fork Club staff tackles the majority of the cooking. Several organizations have volunteered labor, food or supplies and in-kind service.

Two nonprofit arts groups are assisting with the event this year. The Art Base, a community arts center in Basalt, is helping decorate the commons at Basalt High School. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet's Folklorico will present special performances.

Ingram said the event will feature the reading of a poem by Bianca Godina, a student who went through the English Language Development program at Basalt but has since transferred to a different school in the area. She will read her poem, "Dreamers," about the common goal of pursuing the American dream.

Baiardo relocated to Basalt from Denver this year and is eager to participate in her first Thanksgiving dinner at the school. She said she has been impressed by the effort of the school staff and students to make immigrants feel welcomed.

"The early reception of the students is a really positive one," she said.

scondon@aspentimes.com