Diversity = Immigrants
Kristen Holmes, Westridge Middle School – Overland Park, KS
For many middle school students, especially those who are immigrants, it is hard to understand how history is relevant to their lives, which makes it challenging to engage students in the content. The reality in the United States is that nearly all Americans’ genealogy includes immigration. However, In today’s society, where immigration is a hotly contested topic, students who are first- and second-generation immigrants (one-third of my school’s population) face another challenge: assimilating into a culture that is not wholly accepting of them.
Therefore, I used my Fund for Teachers grant to research at major European emigration ports the experiences of American immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries to encourage students’ exploration of their heritage and promote personal connections to history.
I followed the footsteps of millions of emigrants from their native country to the United States by researching at the following emigration museums:
- the Migration Museum Project of London
- the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp
- the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven
- the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum in Hamburg
Prior to my fellowship, I did not expect to feel truly immersed in the
experiences of migrants from centuries past. Museums can only provide a
glimpse into the experience, or so I thought. The nature of the museums I
visited and my itinerary truly exposed me to the culture, challenges
and rewards of migration. The museums, particularly the German Immigration Center, provided an interactive, authentic experience that I
could not otherwise have obtained. Reading migrant stories and watching
documentaries does not provide the same understanding as visiting these
places and literally walking in the footsteps of millions of migrants.
“Living,” even for a few moments, in the quarters of third class, second
class and first class highly engaged me as a learner. I was eager to
learn and now have a deeper understanding of the challenges,
tribulations, conditions and experiences of migrants.
The impact my fellowship had on my career is most evident in both my
curricular knowledge and my passion for engaging students in Social
Studies. While I have always been passionate about teaching and engaging
students, my approach has changed. Despite having traveled
internationally and domestically several times in my life, none of my
travels have been so inspiring, personally or professionally, as my
fellowship. I learned so much about European emigration, genealogical
research, the Industrial Revolution and my own family history. Months
later, I still think about my fellowship experiences every day and use
them to develop new ideas for curricular activities, to fuel my energy
tank and to inspire my students to pursue their own interests and
My experiences drive my lesson planning. I created new
activities and projects, modified my teaching style to increase student
engagement. Students are asking more questions, researching
topics in more depth and making more connections to history than in
years past. While still meeting curricular scope and sequence, I have
worked hard to create time for students to explore topics of interest
in-depth and participate in interactive learning activities. This
challenged me in the past, and scared me a little, because of time
constraints. However, sharing my passion for learning and my experiences
as a Fund for Teachers Fellow with my students has changed my teaching
in ways that words cannot explain.
I incorporated a new protocol to enhance the community students
feel amongst their peers in my classroom. Students have the opportunity
at least once a week to share their experiences outside of the
classroom, their celebrations and even their struggles. Each student
has the opportunity to speak once, without response, then students can
ask questions or make other connections with their classmates. Students
who do not normally speak are beginning to share. The impact is
invaluable and I am hopeful that it cultivates more meaningful
discussions about modern-day immigration and tolerance in the United
Finally, this spring our school hosts an annual Diversity Day. This year, thanks to funds remaining from my FFT grant, flags representing each student’s home country now adorn walls of our school’s multipurpose room. There is certainly a buzz of excitement in the air as students and staff discuss these flags and the diversity they represent.
Though my fellowship was officially only two weeks in length, it will truly be a valuable lifelong learning experience and has enhanced my teaching in ways I cannot explain. It was a truly an incredible and meaningful experience an reinvigorated me as a teacher. I walked away with enough knowledge to teach an entire course about migration and am inspired to develop meaningful, interactive lessons for each unit in our curriculum. Stepping outside of my comfort zone during my fellowship gave me the courage and confidence to implement new strategies in my classroom and to step into new leadership roles in my community.
Kristen Holmes is dedicated to teaching a subject she loves through creative and meaningful lessons. A teacher for nine years, she believes in exposing students to world cultures to develop tolerant and active global citizens. You can follow her fellowship across Europe on the blog she maintained for students here.