Retiring Capital teacher uses immigration issues to teach students

May 14, 2019 GMT

The walls in Meredith Tilp’s classroom at Capital High School are lined with posters that define government terms and detail old Supreme Court cases. The veteran Advanced Placement government teacher often uses historic court decisions to explain how legislation, policy and the separation of powers work in the United States.

Instead of using historic examples this year, however, Tilp tweaked her curriculum to explain the functions of government through the contemporary lens of immigration at the southern border. Her students defined terms like “political asylum,” “zero tolerance,” “executive order” and “unaccompanied minor.”


They answered prompts asking, “What should the government do about immigration at the border?” and “Why are families being separated?”

At a school where immigration from Latin America is a common experience for students and their families, Tilp said she chose to alter her curriculum to provide context and background for all the headlines.

“Knowing about the legal processes for immigrants is really useful if you read a news article or listen to somebody saying something false about what is legal or illegal,” said senior Angel Mata, whose parents migrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

“At the beginning of the school year, one of the first things we learned about was how the president started separating families,” Mata said. “We broke down the policy but also the human side of the struggle.”

Outside the classroom, Tilp and nine of her students from Capital High, whose student body is 94 percent Hispanic and 26 percent English-language learners, according to data from the state Public Education Department, spent a few days over spring break volunteering at an immigration shelter in Las Cruces.

Through the Diocese of Las Cruces’ Project Oak Tree, Tilp and the students helped convert a community center into a shelter that helps people recently released from the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In addition to setting up cots and cleaning bathrooms, Tilp’s students spent time speaking to people in midst of the United States’ immigration system they had learned about in class.

“I’m someone who watches and follows news quite a bit; when they talk about immigration in the news, it’s always statistics,” said junior Max Baumeister, who said he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 12. “Watching the news is one thing, but talking to people yourself changes your perspective.”

Last weekend, while her students were busy studying for exams, Tilp returned to Project Oak Tree in Las Cruces to donate a carload of clothes, toys and other supplies that her students helped collect.


This week, Tilp announced she is retiring from teaching after 13 years at Capital. She said she taught for one year in South Africa as a Peace Corp volunteer in the 1970s before starting a career as a public health executive during which she traveled to 50 countries.

Ahead of the 2006-07 school year, when she was 55, Tilp said, she decided to teach high school.

“I’m a system person. I like to know why isn’t this system working or what can I do to make it better,” Tilp said. “That’s why I decided to become a teacher — so in my own way I could understand and help fix our education system.”

In her final year in the classroom, Tilp taught her students about changing a system that impacts many of their families and classmates.

“You’d never be able to change something unless you learn about how it works,” Baumeister said. “I think that’s why Mrs. Tilp wanted us to learn about immigration law.”