Our Stories

Fourth Graders Learn About Asylum Seekers

February 2, 2017 by Vinny Prell (Faculty and Staff)

In the fall, as part of the exploration of communities and cultures around the world, the Fourth Graders began learning about people seeking political asylum. This unit of study provides our children with some insight into regimes and governments around the world. One of its goals is to create empathy for and an understanding of people who live very different lives than they do, as well as illuminate some of the complexities of emigrating under duress.

The students started with a discussion of American and Jewish values, focusing on welcoming the stranger. They read personal narratives about refugees and learned about their experiences generally. Under the guide of a guest speaker, the Fourth Graders thought deeply about what it is like for someone to leave their home at a moment’s notice. The students did an exercise in which they needed to figure what to pack and carry with them as they prepared to leave their homes for an unknown amount of time. They imagined having five minutes to pack and needed to consider what they might be able to carry and what was most critical for them to bring. It was an eye-opener as they realized they could not lug five gallons of water nor a full tent to house themselves. Many children mentioned that they would want to take some family photos or mementos in addition to the pragmatic supplies and that much would have to be left behind.

In conjunction with Social Studies map skills, they studied the international relations concepts of geography and national borders, focusing on Africa, Asia, and Europe. The children learned global statistics of people seeking refuge today. Over the course of the past two weeks, students utilized their knowledge to map the journeys of refugees. In the coming weeks, students will be using the thinking routine of CSI [Color, Symbol, Image] to express feelings that people might have in leaving, in transit, or upon arriving in a safe place.

As we move forward, we plan to introduce the students to members of an asylum-seeking family in order to understand more deeply what their lives are like. The Fourth Graders will then design a culminating project to extend their learning. The project will have an action component that will give the entire school community the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way.

It is our goal to broaden the children’s perspective beyond their own dalet amot, their own “four cubits,” and to extend their comfort zones as they encounter people from different cultures, religions, and socio-economic statuses. This interweaving of Jewish ethics that are infused in everything we do at JPDS-NC with real world understanding of complex issues inspires our children to put their own lives in a global context.