Human Trafficking and Education: Conversations with Educators

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Education is considered one of the most critical infrastructures within our communities and institutions, as so many come together to prepare young people with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate life. With educators playing such a large and vital role in the lives of students, they are very much the frontline in keeping students safe and healthy. We’ve taken time this month to hear from two different individuals within our community who work in Education: Carlos Marquina, Language and Literature Teacher at East Early College High School; and Julia Andrews, Director of Harris County’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools.

The following interviews will provide two different perspectives in how our community is engaged in minimizing student vulnerability to trafficking, and ways in which their work could be improved and supported.

A 2nd Cup Founder + Executive Director, Erica Raggett, speaking with Carlos Marquina, Educator at East Early College High School.

 

Erica: Hi everyone, my name is Erica Raggett. I am the Founder and Executive Director of A 2nd Cup. As many of you know, one of the major tenets of our mission is to educate the public about human trafficking. Over the past several months, we have been broadening this educational component and exploring some of the issues that intersect with and may often contribute to human trafficking. So this month we’ve been looking at education and its importance in helping to prevent human trafficking. Today I am excited to be here with a good friend and fellow educator Carlos Marquina. Hi Carlos, thank you for being here with us today. 

Carlos: Oh, thank you for having me. 

Erica: Yeah, so Carlos. I would love to get started by hearing a little more of your story. So what do you teach and how did you get into the field of Education? 

Carlos: OK, well I teach, well I’m teaching AP Language and Literature this year. So that’s English for 11th and 12th graders. But for the past six years I’ve taught 9th grade English. I teach at East Early College High School in the East End here in Houston, and I got into education actually a long way along way back. 

I started working for the YMCA when I was 16 and as I worked in the YMCA I started working summer camps and then became a Program Director running youth program summer camps and things like that. I attribute that as my beginning of being in education, even though it wasn’t in the classroom. I finished college studies and did my Masters in Literature and then seven, yeah, seven years ago I started teaching high school. I started at Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena and then two years ago I made the move to HISD and at East Early College. 

Erica: That’s awesome. Well, thank you for doing this work. Um, I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize the importance of teachers and all of the many things that they’re doing outside of just teaching students content. We actually talk a lot in the anti-trafficking space about the importance of educators and other school staff as kind of the first line of defense in helping to prevent human trafficking, so I’m curious, as an educator, what kind of training or learning have you been exposed to about human trafficking? 

Carlos: Um well for human trafficking we really don’t get any training. I mean even thinking about, you know it’s the beginning of the school year and we have to do a lot of professional development at the beginning of the year and we talk about child abuse and we talk about, um, you know, different things that affect children and that our students could go through. But human trafficking is not one of them. I actually became aware of the issue back when I worked for the YMCA. 

And that was because, the International YMCA has, even way back then, they’ve always been involved in programs with refugees and with immigrants and battling human trafficking since then. 

Erica: So yeah, so based on what you learned at the YMCA, are there any circumstances that you see your students experiencing that you believe could increase their vulnerability to trafficking or exploitation? 

Carlos: I do. In the time I have been in school education, I’ve worked for schools that are low socio-economic, 93 to 97% Hispanic population, so you see a lot of recent immigrants, you know and, knowing that, I’ve met students too whose parents and whose families still owe money to coyotes or for whoever brought them to the US. So, those are things that I’m aware of. Knowing that, you know every circumstance is different. That is something that I’m aware of and just getting to know other students and see what their situations are, but just kind of being aware that that could be a possibility for some of them or for their families. 

Erica: Right, right, yeah, we’ve been exploring a lot of different issues and circumstances that intersect with human trafficking like immigration, and racial inequity, and poverty, and the criminal justice system. And I wonder if you can speak to how you think education and the school system can play a role in addressing these issues and hopefully thereby minimizing these vulnerabilities to exploitation. 

Carlos: Well, the good thing is that there is a bigger movement now toward social emotional learning. And those are components that a lot of schools and HISD as a district itself is really making that push to helping students, not just academically but also in social and emotional, their social emotional needs. 

The thing is that there’s not really like a set curriculum or things like that. It’s kind of left up to some of the school social workers and some of the teachers to come up with those things or even the school Principal. 

But for instance, at our school we do have a period every day, where it’s kind of advocacy or things that we can, you know, things of that nature. And so, a lot of the times students themselves bring up issues that they’re interested in learning. Then we, as teachers, can help them develop that or we bring up a subject or a topic with students and have them explore that topic and then they can get involved. Especially in high school when we start getting students you know, especially going into their junior senior year and they’re getting more independence. They want to start working in the community and they’re able to vote. It’s just things that we want to make sure that as they’re leaving high school that they are informed citizens are informed community members and that they’re able to really see what some of those issues are in their communities. 

Erica: Yeah, yeah, that’s such an important role of Education is to help create citizens of our country who can just work towards its betterment. 

I know we talked a little bit in the beginning about, you know, all of the different roles that a teacher plays, both in teaching students but also developing relationships with students and safeguarding kids and so I’m wondering, I know that the pandemic has changed so many aspects of teaching, including the way that we safeguard kids and so how has that changed the way that you might recognize and respond to potential red flags for human trafficking or for child abuse, or for any of those things that teachers are always constantly looking out for in the classroom? 

Carlos: Well, I’ve got to admit that since the pandemic hit and we went to online learning in March that, my phone calls home have really gone up exponentially. You know I’ve always been pretty good at calling parents and having that communication and especially having the communication with students. But now that we’ve moved to virtual learning and I don’t necessarily see the kids everyday, you know, even with us, we run a block schedule so I don’t necessarily have the students every day, but I would see them at school everyday. Right, so talk to them in the hallway and check up on them. See how they’re doing. And so now it’s really even more vital for teachers to communicate with the students. So, that if they missed their class online, calling them and say, “hey, was your Internet down or what’s going on?”  

And you know and then and then the flags a lot of times that I see, so again especially with high school kids, when they’re working too much, right? Um, if they have other responsibilities at home. You know, like a lot of times, I dig into that and just to see, you know, it could just be that they’re working, or that they’re helping their family. But then it’s also like, you know, sometimes when a 14 or 15-year-old has to work, that to me, raises a big flag of like – OK, something may be going on, right? Like if it’s that much of a need that the child is not getting their schooling because they have to help the family. And sometimes it could just be that there’s under employment, or that there’s, you know, a parent loss of a job, so the kid has to help out at home. But other times it could be a sign of some bigger debts that need to be paid by the family or somebody is exploiting them, or potentially exploiting the student or the child, right? 

 So that’s really where I start. Kind of asking deeper questions and if necessary, you know call CPS, or we get my Principal involved. Um, one thing that I love about my Principal is she has no problem making house visits. You know and go checking up on students, especially if you haven’t heard from them, especially right now in virtual, even that’s become more difficult. But, you know, we still do home visits if we haven’t heard from a kid in a couple of days, we go check, like do welfare checks and things like that. 

Erica: Yeah,  gosh yeah, that’s so much to juggle. You know, having to figure out this virtual learning and then those additional phone calls and trying to build relationships with students like there’s just so much to juggle. Do you feel like there are any resources or policies or support that you’re lacking that could help you better educate and protect students? 

Well, I think, one thing that I would like to see, just like we have like drug awareness, you know I have DARE week and we have things like that, and even like I said with more of the social emotional learning I I would like to see more curriculum and resources that are intentional. And really set in stone for human trafficking and for other issues that that we have. That it’s basically, um, non negotiable that we are going to teach. Teach about this subject, and at least have the awareness out there. 

And also not just for the awareness aspect, but… You know where I’m at, it’s a pretty small school, so it’s hard for our students to hide from us because our ratios are pretty good. But when I think of like when I was at a previous high school with close to 4000 students, even though yes, you know there’s a lot more teachers and staff, it’s so much easier for a child to go unnoticed or you know, especially in communities that that are known to have a lot of migration you know, and kids coming in and out. So, just to be able to have something in the curriculum and something set in place that we can catch those things and give students the opportunity to speak out and feel safe. 

You know, because a lot of times, at least from the education I’ve gotten from A 2nd Cup, and the things that we’ve worked on together is that, you know, sometimes the threats are too much for the victim to overcome, right? Like they know that if they speak out there, there’s gonna be retribution. And a lot of times the victims just stay silent for their own safety. So, if that resource or that space and those relationships aren’t built then the problem continues, you know, unnoticed.  

Erica: Yeah, yeah, I think teaching kids about human trafficking. The earlier you know, the earlier we can do that and talk to them honestly and openly about it, the more impact that will have for sure. 

Carlos: Right.

Erica: What is the best action step you could ask our community to take in supporting educators like yourself as you work to keep students safe? 

Carlos: I would say volunteering at local schools is a really important action step. I think getting ore people who are in that [social work and awareness] line of work and those lines of work of awareness and things like that to come into the schools and give presentations and actually going beyond just giving a presentation right? Like actually working alongside students to get them involved in doing some long-term projects. That students could really be involved in and feel some ownership of that they can continue developing and and basically be allies in the fight. 

Erica: Yeah, yeah, I love that. Well Carlos, I know that this time in the school year can be one of the most stressful times for teachers and I’m sure that with all the changes foisted upon you as a result of the pandemic, have only added to that heavy burden. So, I want to say thank you for the incredibly important work that you do day in and day out and also thank you for spending a few minutes talking with me today. I wish you all the best for the year ahead. 

Carlos: Oh, thank you. It was my pleasure and as a true educator it’s really a privilege and a joy to talk about these issues and basically, spread knowledge and awareness. So I thank you for giving me the opportunity for that. Thank you.  

A 2nd Cup Development Director, Kathryn Rogers, speaking with Julia Andrews, Director for Harris County’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools.

Julia Andrews, Director Harris County’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools

 

Kathryn: So my name is Kathryn. I’m here again as the Director of Development with A 2nd Cup and I am talking with Julia Andrews.  This month we’re focusing on the intersection between human trafficking and the field of education, which is really relevant and timely as we have kids, and students and teachers, everybody is going back to school this month in a very different way, and so we’re excited to talk to Julia about her experience in education and what she has to share about human trafficking. 

So Julia has worked in education for over 18 years as a teacher, an administrator, she has done work with the Institute for Restorative Justice at the University of Texas. She has a lot of experience in school safety training and programs. She’s the President Elect of the Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators, and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from Abilene Christian. So she’s joining us today as the Director for Harris County’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools. So, Julia I’m really excited to be talking to you and grateful to have you. 

Julia: Thank you! 

Kathryn: Yeah, so can you just I guess start off by sharing your experience and your perceptions – we’re just going to dive in – of the intersection between education and the educational system and human trafficking. 

Julia: Absolutely, I think, um first, um, my perception wasn’t until I um, began working in Houston. Actually, as an administrator, it’s very interesting that a lot of times we think of sex trafficking and everyone just says oh that’s sex trafficking, that’s sex trafficking. But we don’t really understand human trafficking. And it wasn’t until I became an Assistant Principal that I noticed a lot of our students were working late nights or not coming to school because they would say they would have to work and I never really looked into why they were saying they had to work, or what that work entailed until it just dawned on me that these are middle school children. Some of these are 6th graders, so they’re like 12 and 13. What exactly are they doing overnight to be working? and so that was kind of eye opening for me as an educator. Now that I’m working with the Center for Safe and Secure schools, we’ve partnered with quite a few groups to talk more about human trafficking and the effects that it has on our students. More importantly now more than ever with of course, social media, learning virtually, students being at home alone. 

So there’s just an array of what can happen to our students, and so I think that’s where the education and the human trafficking systems correlate. How are we going to be helping our students and informing our teachers who are teaching our students, you know what are those look-fors, how can we be a resource? And so that’s what we’re doing here at Harris County in the Center for Safe and Secure schools is being a resource for our school districts to provide them information to help their students. 

Kathryn: So what do you see as the role for teachers in schools in working to fight against trafficking? 

Julia: Yeah, I think now more than ever um teachers are no longer just teaching. We’ve known that for some years, but since the pandemic, we’ve been home since about March, the 2nd week of March. And so what do those teachers, as they’re teaching, what does that look and sound like for those students who are online, what are those look-fors, or the students that we aren’t able to put our eyes and ears on or can’t find them in the system. You know, where are they, what’s happening, and what resources are out there for our school districts and our teachers to help those students who may not be telling us what’s wrong, but we have just that gut feeling that something is not going right with our students and we can’t necessarily find them. So those look-fors and providing the resources. 

Kathryn: Yeah, so what are some of the ways that the Center for Safe and Secure Schools is supporting school districts and students and teachers? 

Julia: So we’ve partnered with Unbound Houston, and that is a nonprofit agency, and also Children at Risk and Crime Stoppers to provide trainings. Um for not only our teachers but our school board members, central office, and administrators as it pertains to the new legislation that came across last year that everyone has to have at least one hour training inhuman trafficking and what that looks like. And so at Harris County Department of Education, we’ve been able to support our school districts with partnering with these organizations to provide those trainings for them. 

Kathryn: Now are these trainings that teachers and educators can access on their own. Or is it done institutionally through the schools that they work for? 

Julia: It could, it just depends on the district. It’s a little bit of both, and so the Center, we serve as a resource. And so as we get information, we pass that on to our district partners. We share it on, of course, our social media pages, but most of the trainings are at no cost and they are now virtual, and so the teachers can actually reach out to those organizations and ask for the trainings. We’ve had some school districts that have – before COVID, of course – come to Harris County Department of Education, and we brought those resources in and did a face-to-face training. Some superintendents attended, school board members attended, Central Office leaders even attended, as well as your school personnel. So we are able to connect them. 

Kathryn: And those can be found on the website for the Center for Safe and Secure Schools you said? 

Julia: Yes 

Kathryn: Perfect. OK, so we’ll make sure that we link that along with some of the other resources that Julia you’re mentioning. Some of the organizations you’ve named are actually some of our allies, so we know some of those folks really well, so it’s great to hear that our collective is working together in lots of different ways. 

Julia: Absolutely 

Kathryn: Yeah, so we’re really curious if you could talk about um school equity or inequity and how some of the differences in the resources that schools and school districts have access to. How can that help or harm the ability to keep students safe? 

Julia: I think all of this is positive to help our students and the more we equip not only our teachers but our parents and all stakeholders in our students lives, the better ability we have to keep them safe and so that looks like, as I said providing trainings, being a resource, sharing other organizations. Um, so maybe not just human trafficking, but you know the mental health aspects, but not just for students but for our parents and our teachers and adults. And so we have to make sure that we’re strong and that we’re okay as the adults before we can pour into our students. I always say you can never pour from an empty cup, and so at the Center I’m very big on, how can we continue to help keep the cup full for our educators? 

Kathryn: Is there anything that you would recommend for parents who might be wanting to look for resources in addition to what you’re providing to schools? 

Julia: Absolutely, so they can come to our website that I’ll make sure you have – Harris County Department of Education. We have a resource page on the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, but we also share videos of how we’re working in the COVID-19 era. We complete a monthly newsletter that we share with our stakeholders and those can be shared with our parents and so just the connections that we have with our school districts and pretty much everybody who works at Harris County has been an educator and so we still have a lot of connections with our parents and parent organizations and so we are just really a phone call away. Or, uh, a screen tap away to support them. 

Kathryn: Good, so one of the things that we always like to do with these interviews and the topics that we’re touching on is try and point individuals and communities toward strategic action steps that we can all be taking to fight trafficking. No matter what, avenue we’re are coming from, and so are there any specific resources or policies that you think could be supported or that we can as a community, can work to improve to better equip schools and you guys in what you’re doing. 

Julia: I think so. One of the big ones was the Texas Legislative Session that was recent and they passed that requirement for everyone to have that one hour human trafficking training. Um, I think that’s a big step in the right direction because that is bringing the awareness. We know that Houston is a hub for human trafficking. Especially now that everything is virtual our students are more vulnerable and so taking advantage of these trainings and then inquiring more with these organizations on how we can continue this work and how we can support organizations like yourself and Unbound, Houston Crime Stoppers, Children at Risk etc. How can we Support them in this fight against human trafficking and then on October 16th, the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, we will be hosting our Safety Forum. That’s virtual and it’s free. It’s an all day event with breakout sessions, keynotes. We focus on school safety, COVID-19 this year, mental health, what that looks like, and this year we’ve added the human trafficking component. So if you’re not able to stay for the entire virtual conference, you’re able to look at the agenda and see when it would be beneficial for you to log in and hear those keynote speakers and guest speakers. 

Kathryn: Great, we will definitely make sure that we link the information for that summit on this this page where this interview will be and Julia, is there anything else that you would want to add that I have not asked you about today? 

Julia: Um, I don’t think so. I’m just grateful for this opportunity to share what we’re doing at the Center for Safe and Secure schools here at Harris County Department of Education. So thank you so much for reaching out to me. 

Kathryn: Thank you for the work that you’re doing. 

 

 

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