Creating Community is a project created through a collaboration between Salem Academy Charter School and Cohen Hillel Academy and guided by Facing History and Ourselves which brings together eighth grade students from each school who embark on a journey together towards building community with each other and within their larger communities.
For the 2013-2014 school year students investigated issues of identity and belonging as they pertain to themselves personally and to those who carried their stories on their journeys to America throughout history. By studying three key moments in American history, students reflected on the tension between assimilation and acculturation and what different cultures and specifically new immigrants have personally struggled with on their journey towards becoming American.
Students monthly at alternating schools to engage in a variety of learning through the use of film, literature, guided activities, presentations and discussion to gain a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of newcomers to America.
One of the key project goals was for students to interview an “immigrant” in the community and during an extended session in April, nine immigrants were invited to Salem Academy Charter School to share their stories on becoming an American with students. Participants were asked to bring an object of importance to them - one that told a story about their their immigrating experience or a keepsake that reminded them of their country or origin.
Utilizing the object as a starting point, students talked with participants and listened to their stories and experiences on becoming an American citizen. The interviews were recorded, and in the final two sessions, students composed an essay about each story.
Each participant was photographed with his or her object, and their portraits were presented alongside the essay written by the students.
The partnership between Salem Academy Charter School and Cohen Hillel Academy provided opportunities for students to begin to see that they are part of a shared enterprise and that learning about each other through story telling is a powerful tool towards creating community.
An exhibition of student essays pared with a portrait of each person interviewed will be on display at the Salem Visitors & Exhibition center June 12-30.