As a teacher, one of my goals is to get students to connect with content in a way that drives them to take action. I continuously feel lucky to be a part of a school community where my goals align with the school’s vision and mission as a progressive, Quaker school.
As a progressive school, we believe real-world application of content is important to learning. Being led to service and taking a stand are parts of our identity as a Quaker school. Putting these together takes time and is not always easy, but it does leave students with a sense of ownership over and pride in their learning. My fifth and sixth grade Humanities students decided to take action by writing a letter to President Obama.
During first semester, fifth and sixth graders studied immigration in Humanities. They learned about the history of immigration in the United States, push/pull factors, and different immigrant groups that have come to the U.S. We took field trips to places that offer support services to immigrants in the Twin Cities including La Clinica, Neighborhood House, and the Hmong Cultural Center. Several speakers came to talk to the students about Angel Island, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. In addition, each student interviewed and wrote a biography about an immigrant or refugee.
Modern immigration issues and topics, such as the U.S. immigration process, the experiences of undocumented immigrants, and the increasingly large numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. – Mexico border each year caught the students’ attention. Throughout the unit, we asked students to reflect on the things they read, speakers we hosted, field trips, and class discussions.
As we wrapped up the unit, a group of sixth graders asked me if we could write a letter to President Obama about immigration. The rest of the class got excited over the idea and the kids got started. First, a group of 4-5 students met to discuss an outline for the letter, agreeing on what topics they felt most strongly about. Gradually, they added more students to the group and collaborated to write the letter.
The group presented the letter to the class and, as a class, students gave suggestions on how to revise and edit the letter. Revisions and edits were made and the letter was presented it to the class one final time. The class agreed that everyone should sign it and last week the letter was on its way to the White House.
Writing this letter with the students helped me realize how much they connected with our study of immigration. This was their way of taking action. Throughout the process, I was able to teach my students more about how our government works so they understood how difficult it can be to make change. While the students realized that President Obama cannot just go ahead and make any changes he wants to U.S. immigration process or policy. But they are hoping to receive a response, at the very least. They felt that by writing a letter together as a group and signing it, they were taking a stand on important issues.
– Melissa Andersen, Middle School Humanities Teacher
Here is the letter written by my 5th and 6th grade Humanities students:
February 9, 2015
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Dear President Obama,
We are a fifth and sixth grade Humanities class at Friends School of Minnesota, a Quaker school in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In our Humanities class, we study reading, writing, and social studies. This year, our theme for Humanities is the Quaker value of Equality. In social studies, we have been studying immigration since September. We learned about modern immigration, the history of immigration, and most recently, we’ve been learning about undocumented immigrants. We have also been learning about children who enter the U.S. unaccompanied. We wanted to write you a letter about our thoughts on some of the issues that immigrants face, particularly children.
We think that the process immigrants must go through when coming to the U.S. is unjust. Often times, those who choose to come undocumented are mistreated. We appreciate what you have done so far to help undocumented immigrants that come to the United States. Most of us agree with your Executive Action from November, 2014. We think that it is a good idea to add more resources to the U.S.-Mexico border. We think that it is important to allow undocumented parents who have children who were born here, and are U.S. citizens, to stay in the United States as legal residents, and they can also apply for a work permit. We hope that all immigrants will be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their status.
One issue that really interested us was the increasingly large number of unaccompanied children that are crossing the United States-Mexico border coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador every year. We learned that they are coming from a place of poverty, gang violence, or drugs. They come here hoping to have a better life – a life without fear of constantly being subjected to violence or being forced into a gang. Some of these kids run to the border patrol in hope of being allowed to stay in the U.S. We find it sad that the average time some of the unaccompanied children are detained near the border is thirty-five days. We think it should take less time for them to be sent back home to their families or allowed into the country. While we think it’s important to increase security by the border, we think more resources should be available for helping them find safety or a new home, so they have a chance at a better future. We would like the U.S. to try to work with Mexico and its neighboring countries to figure out how to help these children before they make the dangerous journey to the U.S.
We understand and appreciate that you have given such thought to these issues. We wonder, what else do you hope to do to help immigrants while you are still in office, particularly children? In addition, will you still help with immigration once your presidency is up? A response to our letter would be very appreciated, although we know you are very busy. We appreciate your time and attention. We hope to see change in the U.S. immigration system and process, so that all immigrants are treated with respect and equality.
Friends School of Minnesota 5th and 6th graders