Educators working with undocumented students: Cristina Sanchez


ctnetimages-ReasonsToReturnToCollegeWordCloud650Cristina Sanchez is an immigrant educator. For four years, she worked as the ESL (English as a Second Language) Department Head and LEP (Limited English Proficient) Chairperson at Vance High School in North Carolina. She was also the co-founder and volunteer coordinator of the group “College Access para Todos” (CAPT) from the Latin American Coalition, which prepares students to pursue a college education.

In May 2011, she was motivated to help undocumented students and took them to talk directly with the Director of Admissions at a private college in Charlotte so that they could get full merit scholarships. Thanks to her effort, passion, and the work of CAPT, around 50 undocumented students were able to continue their education fully funded! And, hundreds now know that they, too, have access to a higher education. In 2012, her efforts  were featured on the news and she is happy to share with us all her advice and resources for undocumented high school students preparing for college!

  1. What is your advice for undocumented high school students who are thinking about pursuing a college education?

My advice is to get the best grades they can. Many undocumented students start high school unmotivated because they think that they won’t be able to go to College due to money, immigration status, etc…Fortunately, good grades make the difference. If the student has good grades, universities can help them financially by giving them private scholarships.

  1. How can teachers and counselors best support undocumented high school students?

The best way teachers and counselors can support students is by providing them with the right resources so that they can have access to an equal education and equal opportunities in spite of their legal status or economic situation. When I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, I worked with many teachers and counselors who were not providing undocumented students with the resources and information they needed to have access to a higher education. The majority thought that undocumented students had no options to access a higher education if they did not have a social security number.  Some gave the wrong information to students, causing them depression and isolation. Many never cared to find other options so that these outstanding students could go to College.  I still remember students with a 4.0 GPA whose counselors and teachers told them that they could not go to College due to the lack of a social security number.

My experience in Denver, Colorado, is completely different. My school district, Denver Public Schools, is focused on helping every student be College and Career ready. Counselors and College advisors strive to give students the right and differentiated resources so that undocumented students can go to College.At my school, counselors and the College Advisor make sure that every senior applies for at least one university or College.  Fortunately, we have ASSET, which allows undocumented students who graduate from a High School from Colorado to pay in-state tuition. Still, many undocumented students in this state are not aware that private universities can fund your education if you have good grades.   From my point of view, this type of universities are unknown by many people.

  1. From your experience, what have been some of the highlights of working with undocumented students?

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 3.16.15 PMWorking with undocumented students makes educators love and commit to the profession by providing them with amazing and challenging adventures and opportunities to help students succeed academically, emotionally, inside and outside the community and society. I am a teacher from Madrid, Spain, who moved to the USA 8 years ago as part of a Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture teaching program with the J1 visa. Right now, I have the H1B, a visa only for specialist workers who can provide a service that Americans cannot not. In two years I will be able to apply to the Green Card after 10 years working restlessly in this country. My family lives in Europe, but I do not feel alone because since I moved to this country, my students stole my heart away. I love what I do; it is my passion, a true adventure, and my drive. I feel blessed and lucky to share my life with my students and their families.

  1. What are some of the resources you would like to share with undocumented students? 

I work with private universities which accept and give a lot of money to undocumented students if they have good grades. I also offer my help to students who want to move to Colorado where they can pay as in state tuition after living here for 1 year and 1 day. Denver is very immigrant friendly and has amazing opportunities for undocumented students and their families. Right now, this state has started offering driving licenses for undocumented people. It is a safe city with many opportunities to succeed professionally and academically. If you want to know more information about any of these opportunities, send me an email to I will happily help you!

Here’s a bit more about Cristina:

Distinguished as a leader and powerful advocate for students, parents and Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 3.16.41 PMthe Hispanic community, she has spent these 8 years working restlessly to create an embracing and positive understanding towards the needs of immigrant students. When she was in Charlotte, she was nominated twice as Teacher of the Year at Vance, International Teacher of the Year in 2011 and Mentor of the Year in 2012 by the Charlotte Mayor, Anthony Foxx.

In June of 2012, she was offered the opportunity to implement a new English Language Acquisition (ELA) program at John F. Kennedy High, a public school in Denver. With a Master’s Degree in English from the Autonoma University of Madrid and a Master’s Degree in Diversity and Equity in Education from the University of Colorado Boulder, she is currently working as an ELA coach to make sure that English language learners at her school graduate on time. She is in charge of training teachers, offering best practices for English language learners, as well as involving parents and the community in the education of immigrant youth. She was recently admitted into the Principal’s Licensure Program at the University of Colorado in Denver, and she will be starting that soon. Her drive and passion are definitely providing culturally diverse students with an equal and quality education regardless of their immigration and economic status.

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Categories: Applying to college

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