National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning gave President Trump 45 letters from her refugee students during a private meeting with him on Wednesday.
The 18-year teaching veteran had just delivered a speech at the White House when she found herself with a few private moments with Trump. She handed him the letters in a manila folder titled “Dear Mr. President” and a return address.
She told USA TODAY the package included the letters from Ferris High School students and other residents of Spokane, Washington. Manning teaches at Ferris High’s Newcomer Center, where she teaches English to immigrants and refugees who have gone through trauma.
Trump, she said, was very polite and seemed sincere when he thanked her for the letters and said he was excited to read them. He instructed an aide to put them on his desk. Manning also invited him to visit the school and the students.
The Council of Chief States School Officers, an organization of public education officials, announced Manning as the 2018 teacher of the year in April. Realizing how rare it is to get an audience with the president, she urged her students to write Trump a letter for her to personally deliver.
“She uses experiential projects like map-making to help her students process trauma, celebrate their home countries and culture, and learn about their new community,” the organization said.
The letters from the students varied widely — “both positive and pointed,” Manning said. Some urged the president to watch his language when talking about immigrants and refugees. Others told the story of their journey to America, expressed thankfulness for making it to the U.S. and shared their dreams and ambitions.
Manning said her goal was to express to the president “the beauty and potential of our immigrant and refugee students and how much they contribute to our nation.”
Trump, who has worked to halt travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, later honored Manning in a ceremony in the White House’s East Room alongside Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
Manning wore several pins during the ceremony to represent her students. There was one for trans rights, a rainbow apple for gay rights, one for immigrant students another for the Peace Corps.
“Those pins were specifically for my students to see that I was there for them,” she said. “I hope that it sends a message that all of our students and all of our educators, they are wanted, they’re loved. They are enough and that they matter.”
As national teacher of the year, she will travel around the world speaking to educaiton orgranizaiotns, sharing her expereince, but mostly, listening to others.
“I am just honored to be in this position,” she said, “and I understand the gravity of this situation.”