Back to Gift Store >

May 07, 2020

Officer-Turned-Teacher Helps Refugee Students Thrive


Years before Stacie Merrin found herself leading a classroom of high school students, she was Officer Merrin, with the Phoenix Police Department. “For me, the mission of being a police officer was to give back to the community and help people,” Stacie recalls.

She started out on patrol but soon found a new assignment at a local high school. “When you work in patrol you want to make a difference but you're not really making the kind of impact in a person’s life that feels long term,” says Stacie. “When I got to the high school, within a few weeks of being there you realize, wow this is really where you can really make a difference in these kids’ lives.” 

At the high school, Stacie also learned firsthand the difference she could make with one group of students in particular: resettled refugees and immigrants.

"I was making an impact working with some of the refugee and immigrant students that were part of the ESL [English as a Second Language] program,” Stacie remembers.

“Those families were arriving [to Phoenix] and weren’t aware of some of the laws that affected their kids. Many of them came from places where they had good reason to fear the police. Partnering with some of the ESL teachers, we organized parent nights and I would just provide a safe place for them to interact with the police and get their questions answered. It was something I Ioved being a part of.”

stacie in classroom

Officer Merrin would soon be reassigned to take advantage of her Spanish language skills. After her stint as a school resource officer, Stacie took a position as a Spanish language public information officer. 

“Even after I left the school resource officer position, I had thought in the back of my mind that I would become a teacher in my next career,” Stacie recalls. “While I was at the school several of the teachers told me that they thought I should become a teacher and I loved working with the kids. I love that environment.”

Approaching 20 years on the force with the possibility to retire, Stacie went back to school, inspired by her desire to teach.

“I was able to go to school to get my teaching certification in those last few years before I retired,” says Stacie. “I retired right before my student teaching semester so it worked out really well.”

stacie helping student

Stacie found a position as an ESL teacher and soon was soon leading classes filled with students who had recently arrived to America.

"I teach first-year refugee students, so many have just arrived a few months ago. I get to watch that first year of growth and it is amazing,” Stacie shares proudly.

“The kids who’ve come from refugee situations have taught me humility,” Stacie continues. “They are so happy to be in school. I’m constantly amazed by how hard they work and how much they will not give up. I recently taught a couple girls who never had been to school. They're teenagers and struggling to learn to read and write in English and they get frustrated, but they never give up.”

And despite the struggles that her students face, Stacie is optimistic for their futures.

“I feel like the refugee students may have a deeper recognition of how important their education is,” says Stacie.

“I know these kids are going to be successful and I just think ‘wow, I can't wait to see where they go in life’."

Thank you to teachers across the United States like Stacie who are helping resettled refugee students feel more welcomed in their new communities. This Teacher Appreciation Week, USA for UNHCR is inspired by all teachers, including those teaching across America and in refugee camps, who have dedicated their careers to helping refugee students. Thank you.