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Finding the Lost: A Study of African Refugees in Springfield

School: Springfield Renaissance School

City/State: Springfield, MA

Grade(s): 9

Format(s): Interview(s)

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Social Studies

Project Overview

This book of refugee profiles was created by 9th grade students at the Springfield Renaissance School in Springfield, Massachusetts as part of a learning expedition on African history and local African refugees. 

In an effort to more deeply introduce and engage students in the study of African history, the English and history teachers worked together to create an interdisciplinary study of local African refugees. The study of refugees created a living window/real reason to understand the context within which African refugees came to the United States – which included learning about the history of Africa.

Students worked with a number of different outside experts, including historians and college professors. Students also visited a range of different places of worship – a mosque, a synagogue, a Buddhist temple and a Christian church – to interview religious leaders and ask spiritual and political questions - as a way to understand the different religious backgrounds of the refugees and the struggle for religious freedom that some had faced.

Students also did research by watching movies about relevant topics, reading books and exploring documents that detailed the lives of people in Africa impacted by ongoing war.

English class included reading and analysis of relevant novels, and a study of the genre of memoir through reading and writing. 

Students interviewed local refugees and then wrote the life stories up as first person memoirs. The book includes rap-based poems about the plight of African refugees. Students also included a section on the history of Africa and suggestions for ways to assist the refugees.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Highlights an example of an engaging means for exploring history – through the study of local people. As the students say in the introduction, “We wanted to connect what we learned in social studies to the lives of people in our community.”
  • An investigation that opens students up to a diversity of religions and nationalities.
  • A way to honor new Americans and to understand people from the local community.
  • Shows a nice example of combining memoir writing with expressive rap poems.
  • A fine collaboration between high school English and history classes.
  • The introduction orients the reader to the overall scope of the project and to how the students were engaged in the topics.
  • The memoirs are written with care and show students’ deep understanding of the plight of refugees from war-torn African countries.

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can write narrative texts about real or imagined experiences using relevant details and event sequences that make sense.
  • I can write informative/explanatory texts that convey complex ideas and concepts clearly and accurately, using content that is carefully selected, organized, and analyzed.
  • I can produce clear and coherent writing appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
  • I can follow a standard format for citation.
  • I can select evidence from literary informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.
  • I can use correct grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • I can use correct capitalization, punctuation and spelling to send a clear message to my reader.
  • I can use a style manual appropriate for the discipline and type of writing.
  • I can use resources to build my vocabulary.
  • I can cite specific evidence from primary and secondary sources to support my analysis (attending to such features as the date and origin of the information).
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
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