"During one of our gallery events, I looked around and noticed that everyone was engaged in our work and reading carefully. While speaking with each person, I could tell that they were thinking about immigration differently. I realized that my work was actually breaking stereotypes about immigrants. I felt amazed that my work was actually making the world a better place." - Lysette
"Creating this project is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done so far in my life, but I am now willing to take on any challenge that comes my way. It just takes one person to change the course of history." - Jose
The Community Faces - Humanizing the Immigrant Label project was created by social studies teacher Mike Kuczenski at the Inter-district School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) in New London, Connecticut. ISAAC is an EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) school that invites students to positively impact the global community through authentic, real-world learning opportunities.
In Community Faces, a 10-week immersive learning expedition, 94 6th grade students became experts on the topic of United States immigration through interviews, photography, and storytelling. These young scholars shared the human experience of 16 community members stories of immigration through a variety of platforms. Students worked side-by-side with experts such as college professors, professional photographers, reporters, radio stations, and other community experts to create high-quality work. Their learning experiences throughout this in-depth project begged to answer one guiding question: “Can describing the human experience of immigration help change the stereotypes we see in our community?” Through their learning and informed advocacy, ISAAC’s students were able to actively contribute to a better world in their local, state, national, and global communities.
POSITIVE COMMUNITY IMPACT - GETTING SMART TO DO GOOD
Mike always enjoyed hearing of his grandfather's stories describing his long journey to America. “Hank” arrived in this country illegally after experiencing many difficulties of Norway during World War II, and he came to have great respect for the United States. He became a legal US citizen in 1950 when he married Mike's grandmother Marie in Brooklyn, New York. His tireless work ethic and love for family made Hank one of the biggest role models in Mike's life.
"The more I learned about immigration, the more questions I had. It made me want to learn more. I started reading in my free time at home about immigration. Then, I started dreaming about it." - Delaney
“While working on this project, I began to realize that I am a part of a group that can work together to accomplish anything. I used to think that I had to work hard for a good grade. I still believe grades are important, but now I also know that my hard work to learn academic skills can show other people what’s possible and how to make a positive change in our community.” - Shem
Students analyzed multiple primary and secondary sources from the past and present to form their background knowledge and become “scholarly experts” on the topic of immigration. After becoming "informed global citizens," all 94 students worked in groups to analyze contemporary primary sources. Students accomplished this by interviewing 16 immigrant community members to learn first hand accounts of immigration. They chose noteworthy segments of their recorded interviews which best described their immigrant’s experiences, including stereotypes or challenges they might have faced. After mastering the skill of citing specific evidence, they were tasked with the challenge of accurately communicating that person’s story with the greater public.
Watch the video above to view one of many ways that students communicated the human experience of immigration to the public.
Students learned about the stages of the "Hero's Journey" in language arts by closely reading “The Lightning Thief”, a fiction novel by Rick Riordan. They explored how the theme applies in both fiction and nonfiction text by discovering similarities between the hero’s journey and their immigrant’s journey. Students worked in groups with specific roles and responsibilities in order to complete their portion of the project. The end result was an analysis of the immigrant as a hero on a journey. Every student was responsible for capturing their immigrants experience in the form of a paragraph, which was included in the book students created alongside original portraits.
In science, students studied how average precipitation and temperature determine a location’s climate. They spent time analyzing different climographs so that they would be able to conduct their own research on average precipitation and temperature data from the immigrant’s home country to compare to New London, Connecticut. Students created their own climate graphs of both locations to compare and contrast the climates of New London, Connecticut and the climate of the immigrant's home country. In their final science product, students summarized these similarities and differences in a paragraph which supplements their graphs. Students extended their thinking to infer how different climates might create challenges for some immigrants coming to New England.
In math, students used a coordinate plane to find the relative location of their assigned immigrant’s hometown from the capital of their country, using the capital as the origin. They constructed a coordinate plane over the country, and used intervals to find the distance between the two cities. Students learned how to create legends and a compass roses for their maps, which incorporated calligraphy letters introduced during the project. Many students colored their maps using elements from the flag of their assigned country and worked in multiple drafts to make it beautiful and well-crafted.
ISAAC students’ work to break stereotypes has become widely known throughout the region and state through their award-winning interactive, student-authored, and professionally printed book. They also created an interactive traveling art gallery which includes large black and white canvas prints of each student’s immigrant portrait with QR codes that lead to 16 interactive websites in both English and Spanish.
AUTHENTIC LEARNING - THE VALUE OF PARTNERING WITH COMMUNITY EXPERTS
“The interview was definitely a process. Before the interview, I had no interviewing skills yet. I was really scared because I’ve never been responsible for sharing somebody’s story before. Then, Dr. Fay came in and helped us become more confident with our skills. He taught us that it was okay to make mistakes as long as we are able to learn from them. I was proud that I was able to be courageous, overcome my fears, and listen to my immigrant's story because of all the hard work we put into practicing. It was one of the best experiences in my life so far.” - Keyonna
"After learning how to ask powerful questions from a real Yale professor who teaches interviewing skills, I was confident and knew that I was ready for the real thing." - Neiara
Creating professional quality work takes practice. Before the photography session with the 16 immigrant community members, students practiced taking portraits of each other. These student-taken portraits make up the back cover of their Community Faces - Humanizing the Immigrant Label interactive book.
"I couldn't be more proud of my work. Taking the immigrant's photograph helped me connect with her and her story on a whole new level." - Prishtina
"The first time I looked at the photograph I took of Nancy, instead of seeing the word 'immigrant' in an article, I saw Nancy - a human that immigrated." - Logan
"We learned how to use programs on the internet and other technology that would help us reach more people with our work than I thought was possible. I used to only use my phone for watching YouTube. I can't believe how much is out there." - Jonathan
With today's rapid advancements in technology, students must learn how to become technologically literate and practice the skills required to use it responsibly. Combining technology skills, academic content, and the human story of immigration completely transformed the classroom into a culture of modern engagement and curiosity.
Student learning was hands-on and collaborative, and the 21st century skills they acquired could not be found in a textbook. The use of audio and video programs such as Audacity, Garageband, iMovie, Adobe Spark, Google Classroom, Google Slides, and Canva Platform allowed students to both publicize and present their work to people of all ages in an interactive way.
INTRODUCING COMMUNITY FACES TO THE WORLD
In preparation for their spring interactive art exhibits and book sales, students attempted to get the word out to as many local and state community members as possible. They spent hours outside of school visiting various stores in the community to hang their student-designed posters in order to promote the events.
ISAAC 6th grade students' work further became noticed when they became the youngest-ever recipients of the Angela R. Andersen Award for their positive impact on immigrants across the state of Connecticut. They accepted the award in front of reporters, lawmakers, news cameras, and the public at the 21st Annual Connecticut Immigration Day in the Hartford State Capitol Building.
Representing the entire ISAAC sixth grade class, Ayanna, accompanied by Jose, Prishtina, Edgar, and Jasani gave an acceptance speech in front of the hundreds in attendance at the ceremony and was the only young person to speak during the two hour event. She eloquently shared the story of Luqman, a Connecticut community face and immigrant from Ghana which taught community leaders the lessons she learned from hearing his story. Ayanna's acceptance speech at The 21st annual Connecticut Immigration Day aired on Connecticut Network Television.
"These students are so talented and impressive, it’s easy to forget they are only in sixth grade." - Paul Formica, Connecticut State Senator
Students were approached and interviewed by television station reporters from Telemundo and Univision, newspaper reporters, and politicians including State Senator Paul Formica and Secretary of State Denise Merrill who wanted to learn more about Community Faces - Humanizing the Immigrant Label.
Credit - Univision: New England - April 4, 2018
"Accepting the Angela R. Andersen Award at the State Capitol made me feel like a celebrity in front of all the reporters, television cameras, and politicians. It was cool having my picture in the papers and on television, but not as cool as sharing our 16 immigrant stories with the world. It's getting into people's hearts, and I am a part of that." - Edgar
"Words cannot describe how proud I feel to have my story shared with so many people. For the first time since I got here ten years ago, I feel like I have a voice. Thank you all." -portion of thank you letter to students from one of the immigrants
"Our immigrants have amazing stories. We all do." - ISAAC student to an incoming freshman after presenting at Connecticut College's Freshman Orientation
"If you have the time, visit Otis Library’s Community Room and enjoy the quiet brilliance of the 'Community Faces: Humanizing the Immigrant Label' . . . And if you don’t have the time, make it. This is important and deserves to be seen by all of us."- column excerpt written by Bill Kenny, Norwich Bulletin Columnist
"At the beginning of the year, I wouldn't get up in front of the class to read a paragraph out loud. I just gave a speech to a room of over 300 people. I just tried to remember - they're not looking at me…they're looking at what we've done…they want to hear about how we are working hard to break stereotypes." - Brooke
THE REAL IMPACT - Transforming learning into action
Every student sees the value of their education when their work truly impacts the lives of others. 100% of the proceeds from the students' professionally-published, interactive story books support the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center, which provides low-cost legal services to those wishing to become legal United States citizens.
As a result of student book sales, one of the immigrants they interviewed will be able to afford their Green Card application fees in pursuit of becoming a legal citizen of the United States. The student-created books continue to raise funds that will provide even more financial support for fellow community members in achieving their own "American Dream."
"The most important thing I took away from this project was to listen to other people. Some people just take a look and create incorrect judgments. But you should listen. It can change your perspective." - Natalie
"Not a lot of people have the courage to take the time and listen to other people's stories. I now know that anything is possible and everybody can make the world a better place. Become smart, take the time to learn something new, and share that with others." - Ocean
Team of Educators: Mike Kuczenski, History (Project Lead) Jen Mitchell, Math (Team Leader) Jaime Ferace, Science Susan LaFrance, Resource / Math / LA Amy Solomon, Language Arts