Teaching The Immigrant Story

The Immigrant Story highlights stories of people who otherwise would not have a platform. It is our core function. Over the last three years, many people have been inspired to share their most personal stories with us and with readers worldwide. We have seen firsthand how the publication and promotion of these stories fosters a sense of community and shared experience and inspires a celebration of diversity.

So when high school teachers approached us to incorporate our storytelling into their curricula, we were honored — and thrilled.

In 2018, teacher Beth Merrill of Sunset High School in Beaverton, Oregon, modeled a classroom project after The Immigrant Story. Her students interviewed classmates who were immigrants. This classroom exercise helped students learn about one another and reminded them of the diverse humanity within their own school community. It centered and celebrated diverse voices at a time when powerful political figures were stoking division and inciting fear and violence against immigrants in the United States. As one student in Merrill’s class put it, the projects helped students see “through the eyes of someone with completely different experiences.”

When we saw the students’ final work and their presentations, we knew that this type of exercise might be inspiring to other teachers. And it has. Since that first classroom exercise at Sunset High, four more high schools in Washington and Oregon have created their own successful Immigrant Story-style projects for students. These projects have proven to be successful; they are fun and informative for students and can be modified and adapted to fit classrooms of any size and grade level.

The final presentation at Sunset High School showcased the stories students wrote as part of an Immigrant Story-style project. The texts were paired with images captured by students from Sunset’s own photography classes.

Merrill, along with Portland Lincoln High School teachers Blair Hennessy, Alex Stegner, Ryan McCants, Rebecca Eisenberg and Suzanna Kassouf provided their material for the development of this curriculum. Julietta Bekker, a professional curriculum developer and high school teacher, worked closely with the teachers to structure and standardize the lessons. Thus, the curriculum is now available to any teacher who wants to implement it into their own lesson plans.

The lessons, designed as a five-week program of education and activities, guide students through the publication process — the same process used by The Immigrant Story’s volunteer staff of professional writers and editors.  Here is an example of a story written by Lauren Mei Calora, a 2020 graduate of Catlin Gabel School in Portland. 

Though this curriculum was first developed for high school senior social studies classes, it is versatile and can be adapted to different levels, from middle school to college level.  

All materials are free and available for download. Our hope is that teachers will find these lesson plans helpful and inspiring and that they will continue to use them year after year in classrooms across the country.

In this way, and at this crucial time in our nation’s history, young people can add their own story, thereby learning a little about journalism and storytelling, and helping create empathy and a more inclusive community for everybody.

Have a look at the Lesson Plans.