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Nancy Newton: Preparing Future Citizens for Life After Their Citizenship Test

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Located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Montgomery College serves one of the most diverse communities in the country, and was recently awarded a grant by USCIS for its Citizenship Preparation Program. The director of the program, Nancy Newton, emphasizes "that the journey to citizenship is not just about passing the test."

Students are encouraged to volunteer, attend community functions such as Parent Teacher Association meetings, and participate in other activities that get them out of their comfort zone and allow them to share in civic life. The program strives to "prepare one immigrant citizen at a time."

Nancy Newton (right), the director of the Citizenship Preparation Program at Montgomery College, talks with Integration Advocates Phil Breen, Annena Younger and other guests.
Nancy Newton (right), the director of the Citizenship Preparation Program at Montgomery College, talks with Integration Advocates Phil Breen, Annena Younger and other guests.

Newton, who is a native of Cheshire, England, and a recently naturalized citizen, understands what it means to be an immigrant. She first came to the United States as an au pair after completing her undergraduate studies in England. She later completed her master’s degree at Georgetown University where she met her husband. As a student, Newton did volunteer work teaching English to children and found that she loved teaching language.

After graduation, she joined Montgomery College and taught for seven years. Newton later became an administrator and ultimately joined the Citizenship Preparation Program. She remembers what it was like before the program received a grant from USCIS.  Her program had to charge tuition and saw a decrease in the number of people taking the class. Since receiving the grant, the Citizenship Preparation Program has seen an increase of roughly 70 percent. According to Newton, the program has focused on helping low-level English learners "get out and integrate, and get others involved" while preparing to become new citizens.

A small section of the Citizenship Preparation Program, including instructors, advocates, and newly naturalized citizens pose for a photo with Program Director Nancy Newton.
A small section of the Citizenship Preparation Program, including instructors, advocates, and newly naturalized citizens pose for a photo with Program Director Nancy Newton.

When asked about the program, Newton said: "I wish there were more organizations to do our type of work. With more organizations working toward helping immigrants we’d be able to have more of an impact in our community and society." 

She hopes that people do not underestimate how important immigrants are to the United States' diverse culture and heritage. Newton also hopes that people realize that many immigrants' experiences make them even more appreciative of being able to live in the U.S.

"Some students come from societies where oppression and dictatorship are the norm - and they especially appreciate the meaning of citizenship," she said.

At the conclusion of each group's final citizenship preparation class, Newton asks her students, all aspiring future citizens, a simple yet moving question: "Now it’s your turn - what will you do with freedom?"