Stories From the Classroom

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I love this quote by Jon Dewey. He wrote, “…if I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education, I should say: ‘Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.' ” Dewey, a philosopher and pioneer in education reform, was an early advocate for connecting students' lives to society and the changing world.

This is exactly what educator Angelene Warnock is doing with her 9th-grade students in Napa, California. Students watched our short film Welcome to Canada in the classroom, reflected on the issues of migration and immigration, and then wrote handwritten letters addressed to the filmmakers, Mary Fowles and Adam Loften, and the main character in the film, Mohammed Alsaleh. They expressed how the film changed their perspectives, which Warnock said enabled her students to practice empathy.

Welcome to Canada, and the companion lesson plan "A Refugee's Story," explores the Syrian refugee crisis through the eyes of a young refugee, Alsaleh, who fled violence and imprisonment by the Assad regime during Syria's Civil War. Alsaleh now lives in Canada and works with a non-profit to assist newly arrived refugees. He hopes one day to be reunited with his family.

The student letters thanked Alsaleh for sharing his story, which they said opened their eyes to the real impacts of the Syrian refugee crisis. Filled with compassion, students shared their hopes, prayers, and concerns. Some students wrote that immigration is a big part of their family's history; they could identify with the Syrian families who were fleeing their country in search of a better life.

I was moved to read the letters from Warnock and her students. They were heartfelt and sincere, making connections to the world, their family's stories, and themselves. As one student wrote to Alsaleh, “I hope you will find joy and hope at the end of your journey.”

How are you using our films in your classroom? We'd love to hear from you.

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