Our classroom theme for the year is immigration. We begin by discussing the children’s own metaphoric migration from a small lower school to our very large middle and high school building. We move out to oral histories — they interview people they know about their own experiences coming to America. Along the way we see movies, go places (Ellis Island, Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Walking Tour, Museum of Chinese in America), read works of historical fiction, and more. (This year, for example, we had a wonderful time with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.)
We then move back to the time of forced immigration from Africa, the time of slavery in America. Because of my two years in Sierra Leone, I like to do a lot with the African connection. And because the captives were mostly Mende and because they went home to Africa, I love teaching the Amistad story. In fact, I’ve been working on a book for children about Sarah Magru Kinson, one of four children on the ship. Last year I put it on a blog for my students to read; this year I made it available to the other fourth grade classes. It has been wonderful to get their feedback. Here is this year’s introduction for my class. Here, here, here, and here are some of their posts about the story.
After reading and writing about the story, I showed the children a series of poems about enslavement and/or the Amistad. I then showed them the poem the class wrote last year with Natasha Trethewey and invited them to write their own. These will be integrated into collages like these from last year and posted on their blogs. Their poems are wonderful and I can’t wait to see them completed!
I’m also incredibly touched and moved by the emails I’m getting from the children in other classes. I have to thank Laura Amy Schlitz for making me brave enough to give the story to them. Last year I felt skittish about even letting my own class read it, but now that I know that Laura wrote her plays for students in her school originally I somehow felt much more relaxed about my work being used in my school.