Windows, Mirrors, and Migration

Danny Stock

A seven-year-old child loads into the family station wagon to journey north to the big city, guided by a green book of safe stopovers. Another clings to a grandmother as they cross a great sea in a small boat towards safety. Still another takes a dangerous journey with Papá through the wilderness to cross a border. 

Our GDS seven-year-olds “met” the children in those stories—from The Great Migration, of Syrian refugees, and of Mexican border crossings—through both children’s literature read in the classroom and artwork during a field trip to the Phillips Collection. At GDS, as we nurture the skills students will need to make the world a better place, we begin by helping them understand the world we’re in. For 2nd graders, literature and art are often the best doorways to learning about the world—about others’ stories—because when we encounter stories or view art, we necessarily bring our own stories along. For 2nd graders, their own stories are big. 

Using the analogy of windows and mirrors, students considered the places in which those stories showed something not like them and when the stories reflected their own stories. 

As Hispanic Heritage Month began, teachers prepared students for their tour of the Phillips Collection by reading and discussing La Frontera: El Viaje Con Papa / My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills—a bilingual story in which a child crosses with his Papá from Mexico into Texas—Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago, which follows another father-child Mexican-American border crossing, and Islandborn, Junot Díaz’s first children’s book about young Dominican girls living in the Bronx. 

They also read Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs, a book of collages made from stones that tells the story of Syrian refugees seeking safety and freedom. Second graders created their own collages using a paper-tearing technique, which are now displayed in the 2nd grade hallway. 

“I saw a mirror for me in the lessons because my grandpa was also a refugee,” Josie ’30. “He lived in Hungary, and it was dangerous at the time growing up there. He was 15 when he left, I think. I learned a bit more in the lesson about why he needed to leave.” 

“The stories were a window for me,” said George ’30. “I never knew anyone (except for Josie) who had a family member who had to flee a country, so I learned something new. One thing I didn’t know is that refugees are people fleeing from danger and don’t always have to go in big groups. I also learned that ‘refuge’ means the safe place to be where there is no danger.” 

Both classes used the stories and collages to discuss families, refugees, and migration. They considered the reasons people might leave their home by choice or be forced to leave their homes. They thought about what families—and children like them—would take with them. 

Both classes had a chance to visit a Phillips Collection exhibition on the Great Migration, “The Warmth of Other Suns.” “During our visit to the Phillips Collection, students discussed the external and internal impact on African American families as they migrated from the South to the North in hopes of finding better opportunities and fair treatment,” said 2nd grade teacher Christina Lafontant-Bridgeforth. 

These thoughtful looks into the refugee experience was part of the 2nd grade study of families, a major component of their yearlong Identity Project. 

Even as the adults around them are grappling with bigotry and bombast, 2nd grade students are developing an abhorrence of bigotry and an appetite for earnest storytelling. Under the teachers’ careful guidance—and made to feel safe and valued each day—they are beginning to build a foundation that will allow them to tackle some of the problems with the world we’re in. And they just may change the world. 

Students listening and discussing.

Students at "The Warmth of Other Suns"

Photo Credit: Diamond Piper

A series of paper collages on the wall of an art gallery.

Collages made by students after their trip to the Phillips Gallery.

  • DEI
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  • Lower School