Community Forum: Naturalization ceremony heartwarming

This week’s writer is Annette Carter, grades 4-6 teacher at Beeman Elementary School in New Haven.
Hosting the naturalization ceremony at Beeman is always a great honor. It is a place where real life intersects with classroom learning. It is a place where we experience what it means when we say we are Americans, and a time where we take great pride in celebrating this amazing country. Our students learn about the path to citizenship, and the stories behind people who come to this country and dream for it to become their home.
This spring our students have taken part in what we have called the “Refugee Project.” They have studied the global crisis, and have taken an in-depth look at one refugee’s journey. The stories they read were heartbreaking, all the more because they were true stories.
Because of the sensitivity of the hardships, we asked students to reflect on their learning by creating art. We asked them to step into the shoes of the storyteller, and feel the emotional aspects of a sometimes controversial issue. The artwork you see in the room, these pieces tell stories. The result: empathy and compassion. Our ultimate goal of creating engaged, empathetic students has been apparent throughout this unit.  
At Beeman, we feel volunteerism, community and giving is the way in which we impact our world. The MEGA team’s (grades 4-6) year-long theme has been “making a difference.” At the beginning of the year the students targeted needs within our school building and applied for jobs to make Beeman a better place. Garden committee, food council, trash and recycling, and several other committees have helped the students find a sense of place and service in our building.
Our school participated in the Big Change Roundup and raised over $3,000 for Vermont children and their medical needs. With the Refugee Project we looked for a way to think globally and respond to the great need of thousands of refugees fleeing situations that are hard for us to think about. Nevertheless, they are happening while we speak.
I asked students how they thought we might help children and families who have to make dangerous journeys over land and sea. After many ideas were given, one student said, “Well, they must have a lot to carry, and there are babies and children walking long distances, could we send them something to help carry the babies.”
I am always touched by their ability to find solutions to problems. As I explained the “Carry the Future” mission of providing baby carriers for refugees, I found myself swept up in emotion as I explained that a friend had seen a picture of the carrier they had donated being fitted on a mom on a news clip about the Syrian refugee crisis. I felt a bit overcome by the humanity of the moment, and found tears slipping down my face.
Fearing I’d made the moment awkward for 9- and 10-year-olds, I looked down for a moment. Composing myself, I lifted my head, and looked out in our closely packed group of 50 students, and I knew why I love working in this school, why I love challenging students to think outside of their comfort zone, why I know these students have the power to make a difference. Half of my students were wiping away tears. Many were struggling with grasping why in the world a baby would not be in a safe place, and a toddler could not play safely in their own back yard.
Students have been bringing in carriers for babies and we feel we have the ability to make a difference.
The ceremony on Tuesday was a celebration of all things good, of the value of community, the place at our table, a slice of the American pie. 

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