For 11 new U.S. citizens in Arizona, their naturalization ceremony was celebrated with those perhaps as new to America as they were: children.
On Feb. 17, Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary School kindergartners sang patriotic songs at a naturalization ceremony held at the school.
Click here to view the slideshow. The students participated as part of their Patriotic Program, where they learn about U.S. presidents and symbols in February. Kindergarten teacher Linda Wolf said the Immigration Services Field Office Director John Ramirez, whose son is in Wolf’s class, approached her about doing a naturalization ceremony at the school. They also performed songs and had speeches for their parents and the school on Feb. 24.
“It made them realize that not everyone is a citizen,” Wolf said. “It made them just realize how fortunate they are to live in the United States.”
Kindergarten teacher Eric Guerrero said the program also affects those who watch it.
“They’re getting a lecture on patriotism from 5- and 6-year-olds and it’s very sobering for a lot of people,” Guerrero said.
They learn about national symbols like the bald eagle and the Statue of Liberty. Along with the national anthem, some of the songs the students learn include “The Grand Old Flag,” “God Bless the USA” and “This Land is Your Land.”
The music helps bring together those subjects and the students take a lot of pride in their performances, Guerrero said.
“They love it ... I think they remember it for a long time.”
The program also teaches students about various presidents, especially those on U.S. coins like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They cover their accomplishments and their trials, like Franklin D. Roosevelt dealing with polio.
“We try to the best of our ability to explain to them what polio is,” Guerrero said. It teaches them “strength and character with presidents and letting them understand that a lot of people have paved the way for us to enjoy what we enjoy now.”
Kids also get a perspective on why it’s important to be a good citizen, she said.
“Pretty much everything you expect children to do is not that far off from how we as adults have to function in a law and order society ... you have neighbors, you have to interact and you have to respect,” Guerrero said.
“They were so lucky to see the ceremony,” said Karol Pacheco, an instructional aide at Cerritos who spoke at the ceremony. Born in Hermosillo, Mexico, Pacheco herself became a citizen at a naturalization ceremony held at the adjacent Kyrene Altadeña Middle School almost three years before. She immigrated to the U.S. 25 years ago and met her husband in college.
Some fourth-graders didn’t know why the ceremony was such a big deal, before Pacheco explained the freedom and opportunities not available in other countries.
“They were not saying anymore ‘How come you’re making a big deal,’” she said. “They need to appreciate the things in life and one of them is freedom.”
Christopher Ogino is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a junior at Arizona State University.