Buckley Country Day School's sixth graders recently had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in a full-day workshop with documentary director Jean-Michel Dissard, and two students—Sing and Brandon—from the film, I Learn America. This was part of Buckley's interdisciplinary humanities unit called The Immigration Story: Identity, Citizenship and Belonging.
The sixth graders worked on their own immigration stories to share as part of the workshop. To prepare for the workshop, the students read Coming to America, Finding Your Voice by Maria Hinojosa and interviewed a member of their family to find out their own story. Their poignant and touching histories deeply touched the director who so brilliantly used the metaphor of a candle to explain the power behind storytelling: “it warms our hearts; it lights the way; or it burns with pain.”
“It was beyond powerful to hear the stories in person from the two students in the film, and then have our own students feel empowered to share their own with them," said Buckley English Teacher Natasha Chadha. "As I witnessed the workshop, I found myself fighting back tears. Brandon and Sing’s heart-wrenching stories juxtaposed with their positivity and smiles was incredibly inspiring.”
I Learn America is a film that follows five immigrant teenagers over the course of a school-year at the International High School at Lafayette in Brooklyn that serves recently arrived immigrants teenagers speaking 24 languages from more than 50 different countries. This film shows the resilience of these students to master English, adapt to different family dynamics, and find their future here in America. It underscores the importance of how a nation welcomes its newcomers in determining the landscape of how we see ourselves in the global community.
Sing was an 18-year-old from Myanmar when he arrived as a refugee in the United States. He had to escape from Myanmar by walking and riding motorcycles to Malaysia. No one spoke his language, but the students learned how he loved dictionaries and carried one with him at all times. They were thrilled to hear that Sing became an American citizen this year. Brandon’s journey was quite different. He left Guatemala at age 12 and walked to the United States with a small child in his care. He is currently attending college and working in construction.
“We were in awe over the power of this workshop and the dialogue it will continue to generate. Jean-Michel enabled our students to see how their own stories produced a library of knowledge to share with others," said Buckley History Teacher Patricia Russac. "What resonated most was immigration is now the norm, not the exception.”
This incredible experience stemmed from the Facing History and Ourselves $10,000 professional development grant that the school received. Buckley’s Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Colleen Fortuna wrote the grant proposal that enabled teachers Ms. Chadha, Ms. Russac, and Mr. Mercer Hall to participate in several summer seminars and workshops that they considered some of the best professional development they have attended.