As part of a study called Crossing Borders, fourth and fifth-grade teachers at Cold Spring School collaborated with IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), a New Haven-based non-profit organization that supports families and individuals who immigrate to or seek refuge in Connecticut.
On a wintry January day, the two fourth and fifth grade classes met Gladys and heard her story. A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, she told her tale to
students and answered their questions with warmth, humor, and great detail. Though her life has been filled with challenges great and small, Gladys
affirmed over and over again the power of hope and hard work to make the best of situations.
Next, students were challenged to tell Gladys's refugee story in a form inspired by the painted panels and captions of Jacob Lawrence's illustrious The Migration Series. After learning a bit about Lawrence’s creative process—how he painted all sixty paintings in the series at once, proceeding color by color so that the entire work would be cohesive, students worked with the school art teacher, to create their own palette. In Lawrence’s paintings, he focused on subjects, themes, and relationships including movement and rhythm, cause and effect, and struggles and triumphs. Similarly, students worked to depict subjects, themes, and relationships including perseverance, hope, and family.
At the end of the year, Gladys returned to CSS during a school-wide meeting at which our students shared their work. Gladys thanked the students and explained that the books she received from them were evidence that the students listened—really listened—to her story, and that felt good to her. We need more listening of each others’ stories, Gladys suggested.
How This Project Can Be Useful
- An excellent example of a high-quality product
- A project that could be replicated by different grade levels and in different communities
- Shows how the use of outside experts can inspire high-quality and meaningful work from students