New U.S. citizens sworn in before middle-school audience

mtheriault@adn.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Romig Middle School's gymnasium was as pin-drop silent as any assembly of 800 middle-schoolers was likely to be Tuesday as Anchorage's newest U.S. citizens were sworn in.

But things got loud when it came time for a beloved history and Spanish teacher to receive her citizenship.

Anaely Hernandez, who hails from Venezuela and has taught in the Anchorage School District since 1997, was one of 10 people who became American citizens in a naturalization ceremony that doubled as a real-life civics lesson for students.

"This has to be the most relevant lesson on the Constitution I've ever seen," said district chief academic officer Mike Graham, who spoke at the event.

The 10 people sworn in hailed from Germany, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Macedonia, Bhutan, Colombia, England, Senegal, Mexico and Peru.

Tuesday's naturalization ceremony came on the 226th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

More than 18,000 people will become U.S. citizens across the country during Constitution Day observances, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The assembly included a taped message from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a rendition of the 1990s hit "Mambo No. 5" by the middle school band and a raucous gymnasium-wide sing-along to an earnest "Proud To Be An American" music video.

A new-citizen Zumba instructor from Peru used Skype to share the proceedings with her husband, serving in Afghanistan.

Some of Hernandez's former students showed up, bearing a balloon and card, to support their teacher.

"I wanted to cry," said Yana Smith, now a junior at West High. "She's an amazing teacher."

Tasha Quiett, also a West High student, said Hernandez had used her path to becoming a citizen as a learning tool for students, challenging her class to take the official history and civics test that must be passed to earn citizenship.

"Most people passed on the second or third try," Quiett said.

Over sheet cake and punch after the ceremony Hernandez said she came to Alaska as an 18-year-old international student at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The plan was to stay for a short time and return to Venezuela.

But after graduation she found herself employed as a bilingual teacher right away, allowing her to stay under a work visa.

She married and had twin boys and a daughter.

Now she teaches in the district's Spanish immersion program and leads yearly trips for middle-schoolers to Puerto Rico.

Her students seeing her become a citizen offers a lesson more valuable than one found it any textbook, she said.

"It's the book come to life."

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.


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