Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Educators Teach Immigration and Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

How Educators Teach Immigration and Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
In our most recent tweet chat we co-hosted on May 4th with middle school teacher Brian Kelley at #engchat, we initiated a thought-provoking, generative discussion with English and ELL teachers as well as vested learning partners on the benefits and challenges of creating digital stories on immigration with students.  Our piece “Teach Empathy with Immigrant Digital Stories” published today on Edutopia addresses some of these considerations and steps to support and share student writing of immigration experiences digitally. 
In addition, we’re highlighting a few of the insights shared with us from the tweet chat that will further enhance such a classroom project to create a positive learning culture where diverse backgrounds, knowledge, and belief systems are appreciated.

Click here to read the entire archived tweet chat.

Click here to download our digital storytelling on immigration lesson plan.

Please continue to share how you use digital storytelling on immigration with us and how it can create empathetic moments for classrooms and school communities.  We’d love to hear your experiences!

We invite book reviews written by teachers or students and we offer free lesson plans, resources, and grants to #teachimmigration. Stay connected! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration and our blog Immigration In and Out of the Classroom.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

Winner of the Carter G. Woodson Book Award presented to exemplary books written for children each year, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story is another top-notch biography by Paula Yoo, who also wrote the popular Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds. Shining Star tells the little-known story of Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American born at the turn of the century. Since her childhood Anna was dedicated to becoming a movie star against everybody’s wishes and expectations. Her parents forbade her from becoming an actress and Hollywood was not receptive to Chinese actors. These barriers did not hold Wong back; she persevered and after many years of practice she was “discovered” by a director. After she begins earning money, her family has a change of heart and begins supporting her dream of becoming a movie star. Defined and limited by her ethnicity, Wong takes on some small roles and is frustrated by the discriminatory practices and negative portrayals of Chinese people in film. During her career, minority actors were not allowed to kiss Caucasian actors on screen and most films created roles that represented docile and obedient or sinister and conniving Chinese characters. 
Yoo’s book portrays a strong female role model and shows an era that not only limited the success of females (women couldn’t vote, own property, or attend many universities), but also limited the freedoms of many minority groups. The book has many valuable lessons for students as young as seven who can understand the concepts of following one’s dream, perseverance, and standing up for what you believe in—all principles Wong demonstrates. Other themes represented in the book are forgiveness, the ability to change your mind and providing support to somebody who is following their dreams, as demonstrated by Wong’s parents.

The book importantly lends itself to starting a conversation about racism, discrimination, and stereotyping with young learners. Some questions to ask might include: How is the current reality for Asian-American actors similar and different from that experienced by Anna May Wong at the turn of the century? Why do you think Wong was turned down for the roles she sought? What assumptions were people making about her appearance and ability?

Shining Star is a valuable addition to any diverse classroom library not only for its concise, powerful and ultimately inspirational story told with captivating illustrations, but for its ability to portray the damaging nature of stereotypes and harsh effects of discrimination.

Additional Resources

  •  About Ana May Wong: Watch and hear more about Anna May Wong in this short six minute film “In Her Own Words” which would make a great companion piece to a classroom read. Listen to author Paula Yoo discuss the importance of Anna May Wong’s story in this brief video clip.  
  • About Asian American Stereotyping: Read about critical and acclaimed successes, as well as persistent stereotypes of Asian-American writers, artists, and actors from Asian-Nation, a website by Professor C.N. Lee. Also, visit Teaching Tolerance’s “I Am Asian American” Toolkit for helpful resources and reflective questions on building an inclusive classroom for Asian-American ethnicities.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What We Can Teach and Learn From the Chinese Exclusion Act

-- Contributed by the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF)

Faith, Fear, Hope, Dreams. These are some of the words etched into the memorial walls at the Angel Island Immigration Station, a point of entry on the west coast which served to both include and exclude immigrants. Individuals that passed through or were detained here included Australians and New Zealanders, Canadians, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Russians, and in particular, Asians.

The month of May is Asian American Pacific Heritage month and it provides an opportunity to take a closer look into the bleak history of the remote, fog-shrouded Immigration Station to see what conditions allowed it to exist and to explore our current societal and individual thoughts on race and immigration. As we study its history, connections can be made in the classroom illustrating how personal beliefs lead to civic engagement and legislation that can affect us all for many generations.

The Immigration Station, set on a small island in the San Francisco Bay, was built in 1910 to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first major piece of legislation targeting a nationality. Unlike Ellis Island where immigrants were processed within hours or days, on Angel Island, many were detained for weeks, months, and even years.

The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. Only diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, and travelers were allowed to enter. This law was not repealed until 1943 when China was a U.S. ally in World War II.

How did this law come about? In the 1870s, an economic depression created serious unemployment problems. Racist labor union leaders directed their actions and the anger of unemployed workers at the Chinese, blaming them for depressed wages and lack of jobs, and accusing them of being morally corrupt. Because of these opinions, local and statewide restrictions continued to be enforced against the Chinese until the U.S. government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In the classroom, we can use this history to ask the students what it means and feels like to be excluded. Were they ever left out of a group or activity? What did that feel like? And why do people sometimes exclude others? 

The Exclusion Act was a result of attitudes driven by fear and racism to exclude Chinese from mainstream American life. Some of the underlying ideas and sentiments of the Exclusion Act are similarly and reprehensibly expressed for the discrimination experienced by other groups. Lesson two from the Angel Island Immigration Journeys created by the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation has a complete plan for this as well as a detailed U.S. Immigration History timeline.

America is a nation of immigrants and continues to be an immigration destination for people from all over the world seeking opportunities. Yet, immigration still captures our news headlines and is cause for much heated debate. Using the history of the Angel Island Immigration Station, we can help our students develop the critical thinking and emotional intelligence to shape how Americans think and act towards immigration now and in the future.

Additional Resources
•    HSTRY Immigration Timeline: To broaden the study of immigration history, check out HSTRY’s interactive immigration timeline for high school students which includes several primary source texts and images, quiz questions, and discussion forums for students.

•    Connect your historical study of immigration to the present moment by asking students to take an Immigration Status Privilege Walk, our newest lesson plan, where students learn the meanings of various U.S. immigration statuses in order to understand their ‘benefits’ and ‘limitations.’

•    For more lessons and resources to teach about the Chinese Exclusion Act, visit the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website and The UC Berkeley Bancroft Library’s Chinese in California, 1850-1925 Digital Archive.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Building Diverse and Inclusive School Communities

Told in a series of well-researched, first-person narratives, Eileen Gale Kugler’s book, Innovative Voices in Education: Engaging Diverse Communities, stands out for its honest and multi-layered approach to building diverse and inclusive school communities.

Reading these essays, one is truly inspired by what schools, and all those who learn, teach, and work in them, can accomplish when diversity is treated as an asset – something not just to be explored or discussed on occasion, but engaged in every day. Because the voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community organizers speak side-by-side, chapter by chapter, as a reader, you begin to see how none of them improve the climate for welcoming immigrant students and families in isolation. Indeed, individuals and groups invested in cultivating a pluralistic school environment are highly interdependent.  

Innovative Voices in Education implicitly calls on education stakeholders from teachers to administrators to reflect upon their norms and rituals and ask – how am I really meeting the needs of everyone in my class? In my school? And then it doesn’t just leave you wondering as so many other books do. It offers many examples of how powerful it is when individuals authentically reach out to understand someone from another culture they may have misunderstood and it extends best practices for meeting the needs of diverse schools in order to ensure that voices are not just heard but appreciated.  If the goal is to help every child succeed, this book helps practitioners move one step closer to it. 

We’ve selected a few excerpts to demonstrate the wide-range of speakers found in this comprehensive read. The insights offered by these authors strike a balance between inspiration and practicality. 

  • “At times, we did not reach out to faculty who might have helped us. But teachers themselves often gave us that extra little push or the occasional ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Great job’ or the interested questions about our culture and families. That made all the difference in terms of being able to talk about our problems or cope with them. Just the simple fact that these teachers were sensitive and sympathetic to what went behind the fa├žade of a smiling and cheerful countenance, and that they did not make assumptions about immigrant students, in general, was sometimes enough.” – Waliha Gani and Shriya Adhikary, former high school students, “A Foot in Two Worlds”
  • “Asking questions is an important way to learn and we too often fear offending someone rather than asking the source. I have found a respectful question is usually very much appreciated.  It beats an assumption every time. A key is not to ask a question from your own perspective, but rather look to learning from theirs.” – Eileen Gale Kugler, editor, speaker and consultant, “Valuing the Individual by Breaking Through Assumptions”
  • “Immigrant families have different stories. They may have come to the United States with a stronger financial or educational background, or with a larger family already in the country; and with support and appropriate training, they are able to engage more in their children’s school. Some immigrant parents are able to become leaders within their communities or advocates for their families. They all require the support of schools, districts, and communities to assist them as they navigate American schools and to build their capacity as family and school leaders” – Young-chan Han, Family Involvement Specialist, Maryland Department of Education, “From Survivors to Leaders: Stages of Immigrant Parent Involvement in Schools” 
  • “Despite the message our culture sends us, it is not true that you are either a ‘girly girl’ or a ‘tomboy.’ If you are biracial, you do not have to choose between your black and white self. You do not have to be identified solely as an immigrant or completely shed your cultural and family heritage. Within each of us are multiple identities and truths. This was a complex concept for my elementary school students, who continued to struggle with this idea.  They either wanted the rules to be true or for there to be no rules at all.” – Sara Kugler, Teacher, “Addressing Silences: Creating a Space for Classroom Conversations That Matter to Students”

For more information about the book and Kugler’s work, please visit her author website here

A special 20% discount for the book is available from the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, for a limited time until June 30th, 2015. Use the promo code RLEGEN15 when ordering either by phone at 1-800-462-6420 or directly from the publisher website

We invite book reviews written by teachers or students and we offer free lesson plans, resources, and grants to #teachimmigration. Stay connected! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration and sign up to receive our newsletter.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Announcing the Winners of the 18th Annual Celebrate America Fifth Grade Creative Writing Contest

The American Immigration Council Announces the Winners of the
18th Annual 'Celebrate America' Fifth Grade Creative Writing Contest

May 8, 2015

Washington D.C. - The American Immigration Council is pleased to announce that the first place winner of the American Immigration Council’s 18th Annual 'Celebrate America' Fifth Grade Creative Writing Contest is Anya Frazer from the Fred A. Olds Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Anya’s poem was chosen from among thousands of entries nationwide. Her poem describes a mixture of emotions: hope, tension, and sadness that can accompany an immigrant’s journey to the U.S. Anya writes in her poem:

On each ship,

A flicker of hope,

A flash blinding my endless waters,

But then it’s gone.

Like a burnt out fire,

Trying to reignite.

But as they catch sight of the golden land,

That fire begins to glow.

It spreads out wide like a seed to soil,

Its timid shoots poking out of the ground.


To read the entirety of the winning entry click here.

2015 Grand Prize Winner Anya Frazer
Inspired by her own family’s German and Irish heritage, Anya said in an interview “I feel that it is important for people to understand and think about what immigrants will do to be part of a free land.” When asked about how immigration has affected her life, Anya described how family members on her mother’s side immigrated to the U.S. in order to escape the war and how she values the German customs that are still apart of her family’s traditions.

The second place winner is Zoe Maria Brown from Seattle, Washington, and the third place winner is Olga Rocio Rivas from Miami, Florida. Honorable mentions were awarded to Ben Busschaert from Pelham, New York, Heather Lyons from San Diego, California, and to Severn Sienkiewicz from Livingston, Montana.

Anya will read her poem and receive her award at the American Immigration Council’s Annual Benefit in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 2015 and it will be read into the Congressional Record.  All top six winners will have a flag flown over the Capitol.

The celebrity judges of the national contest include Gerda Weissman-Klein, founder of Citizenship Counts, Edwidge Danticat, author and National Book Award finalist, Valentino Achak Deng, Minister of Education in South Sudan, and Charlotte Leigh, our 2014 Grand Prize winner.

21 Chapters of the American Immigration Lawyers Association participated in the contest. The top entry from each participating Chapter was judged by a panel of immigration experts who chose the top five entries sent to the celebrity judges.

2015 marks the American Immigration Council’s 18th Annual Creative Writing Contest, a national contest for fifth grade students. The contest provides youth with an opportunity to learn more about immigration to the U.S. and to explain, in their own words, why they are proud America is a nation of immigrants.  


For more information contact Claire Tesh at or 202-507-7518.