"We the people," the first three words of our constitution, carry within them the hopes of an immigrant community. The United States has always been that patchwork of migrants-an imperfect community bound together in courage and hope. We are a nation of immigrants whose ancestors', whether by force or free will, came here and survived through sheer tenacity.
Today, we are slowly becoming a nation where the dominant white population is the minority. One in which no one culture is dominant.
Introducing students to immigrant communities thriving within our own city will provide an authentic experience that will not only meet Language Arts and social studies standards but will help students begin to grapple with one of the most serious ethical quandaries of our time. It will also help students understand their own history and examine the communities to which they are members. In my classroom, I have students from: Ecuador, El Salvador, India, Iraq, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Syria. I have had students who, until learning about immigration trends today, did not know that their parents were immigrants. I have had students who after interviewing a grandparent, see a courageous side of their family and learn to view them in a new light. I have had students whose ancestors were forced to immigrate in chains. Finally, I have had students whose indigenous ancestors greeted the European immigrants who "founded" our country. Everyone's experience should be acknowledged and heard. There is so much we can learn from each other.
Community shapes us all in ways we may not even understand. We are all members of communities defined simply by who our parents were or what neighborhood we live in. This is profoundly true for many of our students. Their communities' norms and values shape them before they reach kindergarten. Our classrooms are a microcosm of all the communities in our city. Our students' communities are defined by many attributes, both positive and negative, and by examining them within the classroom, we will create a stronger educational community.
This unit will consist of three sections and is aligned with the third quarter of the sixth grade literacy curriculum for the district of New Haven, CT, and the Common Core. It is designed to meet a variety of literacy standards and is appropriate for grades five through eight.
The first section, Immigration Trends, will give you, the teacher, background knowledge and statistics- some surprising, some interesting, and some disheartening- about immigration. Included is a short immigration history from the most prevalent sending countries: China, India and Mexico. A basic understanding of history not always discussed will give you, the teacher, a foundation to start this unit. New Haven teachers will also find a synopsis of historical immigration trends in our city.
The second section, Immigration and English Language Learners in the Classroom, covers the opportunities and challenges immigration presents in our classrooms. Achieving a clearer understanding of population trends will make you a more culturally responsive and effective educator. You will be better able to address the needs of a diverse classroom and create a safe and intriguing learning environment. One that is inclusive and sensitive to the needs of first generation, ELL students, second and third generation immigrants, and "native" students.
As teachers, we have very little control over what type of program ELL students are placed in and how they will be tested. But there are proven strategies that can reduce stress and increase comprehension for these (sometimes fragile) students. Exploring this topic with your class, within the confines of the Common Core, will provide an invigorating subject that has the power to engage newcomers to our city, and enlighten those whose ancestors have lived here for many generations. At the same time, it will provide a model for the rest of your school to emulate.
The final section is Lesson Plans that Build Community and is broken up into three parts.
In the first part, Reading Research Data, students will, in order to answer precise questions, read a variety of informational texts, including graphs and charts, on immigration statistics from governmental websites. They will also be required to synthesize this information to answer questions about how these trends change our cultural landscape. They will then draw their own conclusions about the myriad of issues immigration can present.
In the second part, Immigrant Narratives, students will discuss selected readings, including first person narratives, from immigrants today. They will then be asked to respond to these texts in a way that synthesizes information from the different types of reading material.
In the third part, Writing an Argument Essay, students will write a research-based argument essay on a local issue. The writing task for the third quarter states: Students will analyze a local issue and develop a thesis statement. Introduce and support the claim with clear reasons and relevant evidence. They will use various primary, credible sources and provide a conclusion. Though designed to meet the needs of New Haven's educational standards, students from all over the country could benefit from examining the opportunities and challenges immigration brings to their own communities.