Learning about the Immigrant Experience

For the past several weeks 5th graders have been studying the story of immigration in the United States both through a collection of classroom texts and through interviews they’ve conducted with family and friends. Last Thursday they had the opportunity to visit with high schoolers in the Mi Refugio program who shared their experience coming to the country with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The experience is part of a unit they’re exploring in Language Arts which incorporates myriad texts into a deeper understanding of the push and pull factors that drive immigration and the challenges and triumphs faced by those who make this difficult journey. 

The unit starts with a reading of “The New Colossus”, Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty. Students read news articles about immigration and choose their own texts to read from Holly’s extensive collection of middle grade literature on the topic. Books include Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, and The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi. As students read they keep a dialog journal, sharing their observations and questions with Holly while they progress through the text. Holly said that just four weeks in, some students have already read 8 books! 

Along with the reading, students also write their own “Stories of a Journey” compiled from interviews they conduct with people who immigrated here. “Often it’s a family member, a coworker, or a neighbor, then they write a summary of the story they heard” Holly explains. Each year some students also interviewed members of the FCS faculty and staff. After the essays are revised, they’ll do a gallery walk, reading each others’ writing and learning about the journeys of more than 30 people collected by their peers. 

The visit with Mi Refugio last week offered yet another perspective in this unit. Mi Refugio is a project of La Clínica Del Pueblo (LCDP), a nonprofit organization that operates in DC and Maryland. LCDP exists to serve the “growing and changing needs of the Latino community, with a special focus on expanding healthcare access in Prince George’s County, Maryland.” Mi Refugio is a program for students who are recent immigrants that runs out of Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. During a virtual visit, two highschoolers in this program shared their stories with FCS students and answered their questions which included, “What is your favorite food in the U.S.? What do you miss most about the country you left? What did you bring with you when you immigrated?” After the presentation and conversation, 5th graders wrote emails to their parents sharing something that struck them from the experience. 

This unit is all about perspective and students are exposed to many through these myriad texts and experiences. Refugees, by Brian Bilston, one of the poems students read most recently, offers a profound example of just that. 

Located in College Park, MD, Friends Community School is a progressive Quaker K-8 day school, founded on the belief that every child is a valued member of our community. We offer a challenging curriculum imbued with strong values of equality, integrity, community, environmental stewardship, simplicity and peaceful conflict resolution, rooted in our Quaker heritage.
Friends Community School
5901 Westchester Park Drive
College Park, Maryland 20740