Nicole Eshelman, this week’s Educator of the Week, used personal stories to help students understand and empathize with refugees fleeing Syria and elsewhere. Nicole teaches history at Manheim Township High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Activity: Mapping the Refugee Crisis
Grade Level: 12
Time Commitment: Around 6 hours or five class periods
Developing Global Empathy
History is, of course, alive and always changing. Studying a current event like the Syrian refugee crisis helps make that point clear in students’ eyes. And by incorporating personal stories, we can inspire students to become global citizens who truly care about the world around them.
Although my twelfth-graders entered my class with some knowledge of the number of refugees fleeing Syria, they didn’t yet understand why people would be willing to risk their lives to seek refuge. Most couldn’t fathom why refugees might resettle in other countries facing unrest. And they didn’t feel compelled to care. I designed this lesson to eliminate (or at least diminish) the idea that since the refugee crisis is happening on the “other” side of the world, it doesn’t matter to us in the United States.
Over five class periods, my students learned about the viewpoints of the Syrian Civil War, evaluated the push and pull factors in the region, and used National Geographic’s World Tabletop Map to label the countries with the most internally displaced people, refugees, and asylum seekers. Then, they personalized the learning by reading true stories about refugees and adding those details to the maps.
Some of your students were actually refugees themselves. How did they respond to this lesson?
In each of my sections this semester, there was at least one immigrant from Iraq who was able to put his or her own story onto the map. They all approached me and asked, in one way or another, “can I do my own story?”
One student who is a senior this year told us that she had to leave her country because of death threats to her family. The whole class was silent and there was a “jaw-dropped” sort of atmosphere. Different members of her family had settled in different places worldwide, and she was able to create a new life in Pennsylvania. These stories really captivated the whole class more than an article or documentary could.
How can interested students get involved with this issue?
My students brainstormed ways that high school students can get involved to help Syrian refugees and others fleeing political and civil unrest. They can collect supplies or raise funds to assist refugees, volunteer at local refugee or immigrant aid group, or participate in World Refugee Day. Students can also write to their legislators, and they can reach out to immigrants/refugees in our own school.
Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!
The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.