Naturalization ceremony hosted at Connolly Middle School
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Naturalization ceremony hosted at Connolly Middle School

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  • Kristine Jennings/Tempe Elementary School District

Connolly Middle School Naturalization Ceremony

Naturalization ceremonies are a pivotal milestone in the process by which United States citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration & Nationality Act.

On May 12, an Administrative Naturalization Ceremony was held at Connolly Middle School. The ceremony was a momentous occasion involving both Tempe Elementary students and employees.

Naturalization ceremony hosted at Connolly Middle School ConnollyNaturalizationCeremonyHP

ASPIRE Academy student Isaac Sundin welcomes guests of the Naturalization Ceremony. Photo Courtesy Tempe Elementary School District

The application process to host the ceremony was initiated by nine extremely dedicated ASPIRE Academy eighth-graders. These students gave up one of their two daily electives to meet in a Project Based Learning elective called Citizenship Counts.

Students researched the standardized Oath Ceremony format and developed a format suited for an audience of middle school students. They also researched potential keynote speakers, and decided Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell fit the job perfectly.

The students incorporated their eighth-grade social studies curriculum into the Naturalization Ceremony so that the audience of eighth-grade students could connect what they have learned with their daily lives. This is especially important as students enter high school and are now required to take a citizenship exam before graduation.

“Our Citizenship Counts students wanted their eighth-grade peers to understand and appreciate the tremendous hardships and sacrifices that most immigrants have faced in their long and difficult journeys to become U.S. citizens,” said ASPIRE Academy Coordinator Dr. Gerald Taylor. “The students have learned much from presenting to their classmates on immigration and naturalization, and their essay and drawing contest has allowed their peers to share their opinions and feelings on immigration and citizenship.”

A total of 16 candidates from 14 different countries became U.S. citizens. This included two Tempe Elementary employees ¬– Sandy Cheung from Transportation and Michelle Hunter from Facilities Management for Learners.

“The process took a long time, but it’s definitely worth it,” said Cheung. “I had a temporary green card for one year and then it took four years to get my permanent green card. The final steps included a citizenship test and an interview.”

Cheung was born in Hong Kong, but moved to Canada when she was 10 years old. She visited Phoenix in 2007 and fell in love – both with America and with the man who is now her husband. She has worked as a bus driver in TD3 since August of 2014.

“I love working for Tempe Elementary School District,” said Cheung. “The people are very supportive and it feels like a big family.”

Michelle Hunter moved from Scotland to Oregon eleven years ago. In 2013, she moved to Arizona and has been working for TD3 since February 2015 as an Administrative Assistant in the Facilities Management for Learners department.

“I wanted to become a U.S. citizen first and foremost because my daughter was born here and I wanted to be a citizen like her,” said Hunter. “The waiting was very hard; I waited from January until I finally found out in April that I could be naturalized, and I was thrilled. I also feel so proud to be a part of the ceremony being held in the District.”

The ceremony followed the standard format of an Administrative Naturalization Ceremony; the addition of the ceremony “designed by students for students” was very inspiring and successful. A video showcasing the essay and drawings created by ASPIRE students started off the ceremony, and also included a song titled “Dreams Never Imagined.” The video was put together by ASPIRE students Charlotte Fornasiero, Sean Myers, Justice Harasha, and Sabrina Hirshorn.

Sean Myers, an ASPIRE Academy student in the Citizenship Counts class, said, “It is truly amazing to see this come together and to see our hard work come through.”

“These students are transitioning to high school, and they needed to leave some kind of legacy,” said Dr. Taylor. “This ceremony is a legacy; it is something they created for the community and the school.”

Congratulations to all the new citizens of the United States of America!