Reflections of a CARECEN Civics Teacher

By Alissa Moen, Volunteer Civics Teacher

Alissa celebrates citizenship class graduation with her students in the Spring of 2013

As a U.S. History and Civics teacher at CARECEN over the past three years, I have had the privilege of helping many people prepare for the citizenship interviews.  They come from a variety of countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Eritrea…this list goes on!  Not only have I been able to refresh my U.S. History trivia (facts), I have seen underlying traits and characteristics of CARECEN students.  Since my co-teachers and I often use games to make studying more fun, I wanted to share a mnemonic of characteristics I have seen in these dedicated CARECEN students and alumni!




C – CREATIVE: Memorizing the answers to 100 questions about U.S. history and civics is a daunting task. Imagine having to learn all these facts and dates in a second language!  CARECEN students always find creative ways to remember the responsibilities of each branch of government or the myriad reasons Benjamin Franklin is an important historical figure!  I always enjoy hearing the tricks and clues they invent to trigger their memory!

I – INQUISITIVE: Although the students must memorize names, facts, and dates, they remain interested and inquisitive about why the U.S. government was set up a certain way and how they can actively participate in their democracy as new citizens of the United States.

T – TENACIOUS: CARECEN students are tenacious and resilient.  Many have been in the United States for several years in order to establish themselves and find their path to citizenship. This means that sometimes they are separated from children or their spouses for extended periods of time.   Over time, they learned a new language, new systems, and new social and cultural norms. Some have suffered discrimination or loneliness. In spite of the many challenges of immigrating to a new country, CARECEN students are some of the truest examples of the determined and resilient human spirit.

I – INVESTED: CARECEN students make a huge investment when they decide to start the process of applying for citizenship.  At the beginning of each new session, I like to ask, “Why do you want to be a U.S. citizen?”  The answers always reflect their investment in providing a safer, more stable life for their families here in the United States – one of the diverse reasons so many of the students originally came to this country.

Z – ZEALOUS:  Preparing for the citizenship interview requires energy, commitment and enthusiasm not to mention time, energy and a financial commitment.  CARECEN students show their dedication to a brighter and more secure future as U.S. citizens as they get ready for the test and interview, attending class each week for two to four hours, coming straight from long days at work to class, studying on the bus on their way home, all the while juggling home and family responsibilities with memorizing historical facts about the United States.  This is one committed group of people!

E – ENCOURAGING:After former students “pass the test” to become United States citizens, many come by the classroom to share the good news and tell us about the interview process.  Without fail, each person shares words of encouragement with the new group of students.  Their excitement helps motivate and ease the minds of the new students to show them their goal of becoming U.S. citizens is within reach!

Alissa with her students in January of 2011

N – NEIGHBORLY: CARECEN students are neighborly and the time spent together supporting each other in preparation for the citizenship interview establishes a bond that goes beyond the walls of the classroom. CARECEN’s weekly classes provide a space for neighbors to get to know and engage with one another in unique ways. Many stay connected even after the classes finish, and I always love running into students and hearing updates on their lives, their interview plans, and their families. These students gain a broader and more diverse network because of the classes, which strengthens the very fabric of our community.

Adelante CARECEN!

Alissa Moen   

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