At Lincoln High School in southwest Denver, many students and teachers spent most of the school day crying. At Rocky Mountain Prep elementary schools, students asked their teachers if they or their families would have to leave the country. An Aurora principal heard of two cases of Hispanic students being told by classmates that they would be deported.
Teachers and school leaders across the metro area struggled Wednesday helping students process the implications of a bitter, divisive election that will send Donald Trump to the White House. Those worries were especially acute in more diverse schools, where students worried about what might lay in store after a campaign in which Trump talked repeatedly about deportations, building walls and banning Muslims from the U.S.
Ruth Baldivia, principal of Boston K-8 in Aurora, which has a large number of Latino and refugee students, said she told teachers to try to keep discussions broad and focused on how democracy and elections work, “not specifically about how Trump might impact them.”
Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will be deported.
Many of Baldivia’s concerns centered on the well-being of her students and their families.
“Our parents already hide out because they don’t have papers,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything from them yet, but I do anticipate that and want to be prepared to support them and I’m not even sure how.”
At Lincoln High School, 14-year-old Jose Jon Carlos said his teachers made him feel better about his concerns about a Trump presidency and what it could mean for his immigrant family.
“They supported us,” Carlos said of his teachers. “They told us we don’t have to worry yet. They said they were here for us if anything happens.”
For Justin Geovanni, 15, seeing his teachers join students crying made him feel supported.
“They let us express ourselves,” Geovanni said. “Some of them are Mexican, too, and they’re here because they want the same American dream we do. They understand.”
At some Colorado schools, students walked out of class Wednesday to protest Trump’s victory.
Lola Rosales, a Lincoln senior and a member of Denver Public Schools’ student board of education, is trying to prevent that at her school. Instead, she wants to plan an informational rally to teach students and the community about their rights and “what power they have.”
“Everyone is scared in this school. There were tons of tears today,” Rosales said. “The reason for a walkout is when the administration isn’t listening to us. But our voice is being heard.”
When the double-doors opened Wednesday at the Denver School of International Studies, civics teacher Jennifer Boyle welcomed her high school students with hugs and tears.
One student cried 90 minutes straight during a planning period. Another, a 16-year-old Latina, came to her in hysterics, fearful for her family’s safety.
Boyle, in her sixth year teaching at the school, said she was apprehensive about teaching civics in a political year marked by so much polarization. Yet she said she also sensed an opportunity to fulfill the school’s vision of creating students who are tolerant, inquisitive about the world, communicative and aware of different perspectives.
“Kids were coming to me and asking, ‘What happened? Do you have the answer for me?’” Boyle said. “I said, ‘I think the answers are in the results. I think there are a lot of people who felt marginalized for a long time.’”
At Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two schools in Denver, staff shared resources with teachers Wednesday morning to guide them through talking to students, said James Cryan, the CEO. The elementary schools serve large numbers of children of color living in poverty. The network is also in the process of taking over an Aurora school, starting with preschool this year.
“We’ve had multiple students ask if this means that they’ll have to move away or if they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., or express concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away,” Cryan said. “We have all elementary students, so it’s heartbreaking to hear those questions in 2016 from our scholars.”
Cryan said Rocky Mountain Prep students held mock elections at their schools Tuesday, but “it got a lot more personal and scary this morning.”
In general, he said, the focus now is on making all students feel safe. The school staff are also exploring ways to provide resources for families with help from community organizations.
“I think our teachers feel like our work and our partnership with our scholars and our community is more important today than before,” Cryan said. “We’re very committed to showing all of our scholars what great community means and looks like.”
At College View Elementary in southwest Denver, some parents picking up their kids on Wednesday afternoon said they didn’t know how to talk to their children.
“I don’t know what to tell them,” said Mirna Bustillos, a mother of three children ages 7, 5 and 3.
Bustillos said that her 7-year-old son came home one day worried because his classmates had told him he would be kicked out of the country if Trump was president.
“When he knew he won, he got upset,” Bustillos said. “I told him nothing is going to happen.”
Carolina Martinez, a mother of a 9-year-old girl at College View, said she was trying to believe that everything would be fine.
“I have to be fine,” she said, “so that she will be fine, too.”