Education

Students Cheer On Teacher When She Becomes A U.S. Citizen

The flood of support she received will bring tears to your eyes.


Sometimes it takes a while to truly call a place “home."

Annmarie Small knows this well. In 2007, she chose to leave her home in Kingston, Jamaica and move to America to try and start a better life for herself and her 5-year-old son.

Small was working as a teacher at the time and, even with a Master's degree, she was having a hard time making ends meet.

She ended up in Tallahassee, FL, where she was hired to teach pre-kindergarten through 8th grade at a small private school called Cornerstone Learning Community. Now, 13 years later, Small finally became a U.S. citizen and her Cornerstone "family" showed up in a big way to help her celebrate.

Cornerstone Learning Community

"I use the term 'bag of emotions' because that's exactly what it was," Small, 42, told GMA . "When everything was quiet after the ceremony and I went home, I cried, and it was tears of joy."

Students and faculty from Cornerstone filled the seats at a naturalization ceremony held at the Leon County Federal Courthouse last Thursday. All of Small's students from her current fourth grade class were there, as well as dozens of her former students, now in older grades.

So many people showed up that most of the older kids had to wait outside of the courthouse because all of the court's seats were full.

After the ceremony, Small was greeted by her crowd of supporters, all waving American flags and cheering for their teacher. Alongside Small, 70 other people became citizens that day.

“There was a feeling that this is what we should be doing as a nation, welcoming our new citizens, that we are a nation of immigrants and this process is essential to our national identity, and being able to share that with students and to humanize it was amazing," Jason Flom, Cornerstone's director, said.

Small remembers her first days at Cornerstone fondly and says she was immediately welcomed by the students and families there, despite her coming from a different culture and having a heavy accent.

"It's so special to me because it's not just one particular group," she said. "Every year, I've had students and teachers and parents rooting for me."

Cornerstone Learning Community

After the ceremony, the school hosted an “American party" for Small complete with homemade apple pie, ice cream and an all-American playlist created by one of her students.

Smith hopes that her story inspires others who may be going through similar struggles.

"The road may be long and rugged and tough, but just don't give up -- keep going," she said.

Cornerstone Learning Community

What a beautiful story of love and acceptance. We think it's awesome that Small's students and co-workers showed up to support her on such an important day. Why not take their lead and show kindness to others in your community, no matter where they're from?

Let's #StartSomethingGood together.

How can you start something good?
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