Students at Wilhelmina Henry School in Stockton got a civic lesson that struck close to home after one of their teachers took her U.S. citizen’s oath at a school ceremony.
Substitute teacher Heidy Zeller is from Columbia but moved to California with her husband whom she met in the Peace Corps overseas. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees at two overseas universities and was praised by speakers for being active in community supporting local schools.
“To have the opportunity to vote, being able to work in a pubic school, I’m very happy and excited right now,” Zeller said.
Students at the K-8 school applauded after she took her oath. Many raised their hands when asked by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Patsy Johnson if any of their relatives were immigrants. The student body has a large population of Sihks, Hispanics, Chinese and Filipinos.
Stockton School District Superintendent Steve Lowder took the opportunity to urge students to vote as part of their citizenship responsibilities. He said he had no problem hiring a non-citizen for a job over an American citizen.
“She’s allowed to work and filled out all the proper paperwork. We hire the best person we can and in this case we have someone who did their due diligence and became an American citizen,” Lowder said.
Zeller waited three years as the wife of a citizen before she could take the citizenship test.
Zeller’s husband, Aaron Zeller, teaches high school in the same district and says many of his students told him of their relatives experience becoming citizens.
“We have a diverse student population. It’s nice to know that the students can relate to the process my wife went through,” he said.
Heidy led the gathering in the pledge of allegiance after being taking the citizenship oath. It’s something she did for her class as a teacher, but doing it as a citizen had added significance.
“I say the pledge every day with honor, and now I feel it with more honor,” Zeller said.
Zeller is continuing her education taking courses in counseling and is poised to continue career in education.