Thursday, July 23, 2015

Empowering Educators to Teach Immigration

On June 29th, 2015 just three days after the last official day of school and three days into their summer break, a group of 16 dedicated Long Island educators, social workers, and administrators participated in a full-day training on immigration as an introduction to the American Immigration Council’s Teach Immigration project. This project is an educational imitative designed to increase and improve teaching and learning about immigration law and policy at selected high schools on Long Island.

On this day, we focused on unpacking key concepts and issues in immigration that are integral to fostering informed and honest classroom discussions, sorely desired by both educators and students. As teachers gathered for the training, many conversed about their recent commencement ceremonies and beamed with pride on their students’ achievements. We began by facilitating an Immigration Status Privilege Walk, where asked participants to literally walk through the benefits and limitations conferred with an immigration status from a series of scenarios. We debriefed on what it felt like to be excluded and included, and how everyone to different degrees is affected by the privilege of immigration status. Soon after, teachers shared stories of separated families and interrupted educations many of them heard about. Throughout the day, they cited examples of how forming relationships with students and their families helped to address their students’ needs, while also recognizing the importance of staying informed on immigration issues so that they could speak about them in such a way as to engender positive school climates and attitudes on immigration.

To address this latter concern in our training, we looked at writing our way into the multiple reactions to executive action. By weaving non-fiction accounts taken from article clippings into creative writing, educators were able to write their way into understanding the multiple perspectives that surround this immigration issue, and importantly use this as critical writing and thinking lesson with their students. To deepen understandings and empower students to discuss immigration issues, our partner, Lena Moreale Scott from Street Law, trained teachers on deliberative dialogue, a strategy which provides a thorough understandings of both sides to an issue and allows students to deliberate using evidence and logic. 

In order to meet the need of fostering a positive school climate, Eileen Gale Kugler, author of Innovative Voices in Education: Engaging Diverse Communities, also spoke to educators on the need for reflection on assumptions and identities we all have of ourselves and others with practical ways to allow for students and school professionals to build fuller understandings of who they are and what they bring to the classroom.

As teachers left the training, many were enthusiastic about trying new strategies for the classroom. One teacher wrote to us saying she was “looking forward to using some formats as models for the classroom. [The training emphasized] excellent critical thinking and writing! Teaching our students to deliberate about immigration policy was very relevant and helpful with developing curriculum.” Another told us that what benefitted him most was “meeting like-minded individuals and receiving truly applicable activities that meet K-12 academic goals.” Still another teacher stated, “You are reminded that when we talk about immigration issues, we are talking about real people!”

The attendees are invited to continue the journey with Teach Immigration by partnering with a local immigration attorney who will help co-teach lessons about immigration law and policy and will serve as an issue expert and local contact. The educators are also invited to bring their students to a student forum to be held in the fall of 2015 on Long Island.  Students who participate in the program will be eligible to apply for a student leadership program which will match up to three outstanding students with local organizations in a summer internship. The internship will allow students to build their resume, network, learn new skills and earn a stipend while serving as a peer leader.
We look forward to continuing our work with this engaged group of educators on Long Island through the Teach Immigration project and to share our work and lessons learned. Many of the lessons and resources we offer them are available for free on our website.  

Additional Resources:

We offer free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to #teachimmigration. Stay connected! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration and/or email us at

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