WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump presented the National Teacher of the Year award on Wednesday to a Washington state educator who gave him a stack of letters from some of the teenage refugees she teaches that talk about what coming to the U.S. has meant to them.
Trump did not mention the types of students Mandy Manning teaches during a White House ceremony honoring her and other winners. Manning teaches English to new refugee and immigrant students from all over the world at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane.
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"Teachers like Mandy play a vital role in the well-being of our children, the strength of our communities and the success of our nation," Trump said. "The job of a teacher is not only to instruct the next generation of workers but the next generations of citizens to teach our children to care for others, to think for themselves, to love their country, to be proud of our history and to be true pillars of their families and their communities."
The word "citizens" was written in all-caps in the president's prepared remarks while the other words were lowercased. The remarks were projected on three teleprompters in the room for him to read.
The Republican president has taken a hard-line approach to both legal and illegal immigration and for a period suspended the U.S. refugee program. During the campaign, Trump compared refugees fleeing war-torn Syria to a Trojan horse carrying would-be terrorists. He also proposed banning Muslims from entering the country.
Manning told The Associated Press after the ceremony that she used a private moment with Trump to give him stacks of letters written by her students and members of the Spokane community. She said she told Trump she hoped he reads them, and she encouraged him to visit her school.
"I just had a very, very brief moment so I made it clear that the students that I teach ... are dedicated and focused," Manning said in an interview. "They make the United States the beautiful place that it is."
Manning said the letters convey important messages about what coming to the U.S. meant to the immigrants and refugees.
She said some letter writers also asked that the U.S. understand that it is a role model for other nations "and that we maintain our position as peacemakers and also that all people in power, particularly the president, should be very careful about how he or anybody else in power communicates about our immigrant refugees and, frankly, any group of people."
The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and describes itself as the "oldest, most prestigious national honors program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching."
Every president since Harry Truman has honored its winners in a White House ceremony.
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