How We Got Here: Stories of Immigration

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With its themes of personal expression and both world and US regions, our fourth grade curriculum has long included an immigrant interview project. Through this project, our fourth graders are encouraged to be curious about the ways in which we are all both alike and different, and it’s a good point in the students’ development for them to be encouraged to think a little more broadly. Students at this point have increased capacity to think more deeply and critically, and the hope is that projects like this one will open them up to those possibilities.

In previous years, students were working from a common list of questions. This year, the students have been talking a lot about the fact that everyone has a story, and focusing more on trying to create a space in which people are really comfortable telling their story. Through these conversations, the writing of the questions became part of the project, which led to some great conversations about what makes a good question. Fourth grade teacher Kayla Sorin shares, “We learned about open-ended questions, and we practiced with our kindergarten buddies, who really helped us learn how to listen closely and also how to ask follow-up questions when a little interviewee gives a one-word answer.”

“Students were asked to identify an immigrant who they would interview. They listed things they already knew about that person, and then students brainstormed a huge list of things that they wish we knew about those people. We worked with these lists so that we had a sense of some of the broader themes and categories. Some of the questions that were raised by multiple students included the following:

Why did you come to America?
Do you consider yourself more Italian (or other nationality), or more American?
What was the first thing you did when you came to America? How did you get a job?
Who from your family is still left in the old country?
What are the big differences between life there and life here?”

To facilitate sharing, and because the Rutgers Prep experience values technological fluency, each student was supported in creating and sharing a recording of their interview.

Ms. Sorin also knew of non-profit StoryCorps’ work in documenting personal stories, and liked the idea of connecting our students’ work with a broader community of storytellers. Our students’ families were asked to consider the possibility of uploading their completed interviews via the StoryCorps app. The students whose families supported them in taking this step will now have their work archived in the Library of Congress!

After all their recordings are completed, students will have a period of summary and reflection; how was this process for you, what did you learn from it, what would you do differently if you interviewed someone else?

When we spoke with Barra ‘24, she shared, “I interviewed Bel, who sometimes helps take care of our dog when we go on vacation. She’s from Brazil, and because I’m a soccer player I have kind of become a fan of Brazil. This project was really fun, and also challenging, because at first I didn’t know what to ask, and then once I had questions I had to figure out what order to ask the questions in. She likes to talk, so once we got started it was pretty easy.

I’ve known her for a long time; she came to America fourteen years ago. I felt like I knew her pretty well, and I was so surprised to learn before that she was a movie producer in Brazil!

This project is important because you learn other people’s stories and get to know where other people are coming from. We asked some of the same questions, but of course the answers are all really different, which is very interesting.”

Christian ‘24 shared, “It was fun to be with my grandparents and learn about their lives back in Lebanon. I was mostly relying on my oral history paper to help with coming up with questions, and then I needed even more questions! (My dad helped me.)

I had mostly only heard these stories from my dad before, so it was cool to have a chance to really hear them from my grandparents. I feel like my dad would tell me the things he thought I should know, but in this interview I learned a whole bunch of new things. Like my grandfather was a spare parts mechanic when he first came here, and I never knew that! (My grandfather can still pretty much fix anything he wants, all by himself.)

It is very important for you to learn about the experiences of people who have lived in other cultures. Once you know these things, it makes a stronger bond, and you can even tell some of these stories yourself!”

For more about StoryCorps’ “Great Thanksgiving Listen” project, please see https://storycorps.me
To hear some of our students’ interviews, click on the links below:

Ella’s ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/bruno-colomban/
Christian ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/my-interview-of-my-teta-and-jedo/
Devjit ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/immigrant-interview-by-devjit-bhattacharya/
Krish ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/interview-with-krish-patel-and-his-grandfather-ramesh-patel/
Camryn ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/victoria-camryn/
Caya ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/ms-sony-caya/
Barra ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/barrabel-interview/
Chase ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/england/
Phillip ‘24’s interview: https://storycorps.me/interviews/cuba/

A Warm Welcome

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At the beginning of each school year, Rutgers Prep celebrates an opportunity to welcome the newest members of our community. At this year’s New Parent Orientation, Student Council President Arjun Ahluwalia ’16 shared his thoughts with a roomful of parents, and it occurred to those who were fortunate enough to hear him that it wasn’t just the newcomers who might benefit from hearing the perspective of this young leader. Our Headmaster Dr. Loy likes to remind us that each fall represents an opportunity for a fresh start; here, Arjun takes a few minutes to remind us of the unique nature of the Rutgers Prep community:

“Good morning everyone,

My name is Arjun Ahluwalia, I am a senior, and I serve the Upper School as the Student Council President. Welcome to New Jersey’s first independent school and congratulations on joining our Rutgers Prep community that many students like me have learned to call our second home.

As I begin my senior year here at Prep, and having been a student here for over six years, I can confidently say that Rutgers Prep serves as a place of learning which aims to educate beyond the scope of just academics. What do I mean by that?

Over the course of my time here at Prep, one aspect that I am very proud to boast about is our cultural diversity. I am always taken aback when I notice the number of people who are willing to participate in cultural activities that they don’t necessarily have an obvious connection with. On the day of Diwali, you will see that the number of people who wear authentic garb is evenly split between Indians and non-Indians. On Chinese New Year, you will see everyone joins in on the fun of moon cakes with community members wishing each other a jubilant Gung Ho Fat Choi! Not to mention, you can listen to keynote speakers during our annual banquet in February when we celebrate Black History. We celebrate all backgrounds, not only to make everyone feel welcome, but in order to embrace and learn more about the diverse community around us in this school, and in the world beyond.

At Rutgers Prep, we take pride in our ever-so-many traditions—our annual Lower School Family Day when there is literally a fair set up on campus, our Middle School Auction, sponsored by the 8th grade to raise money for the annual 8th grade trip, the Freshman Camping Trip, where students learn to overcome obstacles by working in collaboration… the list continues. Whether it be in an organized event, or even attempting to end sentences with an “argh” or “aye matey” on the annual Talk Like a Pirate day (kudos to Mr. Cohen), you will see students partaking and enjoying the many opportunities Rutgers Prep has to offer.

We are a small but growing microcosm of different cultures, opinions, and interests. Whether your child is a math prodigy, a future athletic stand-out, an up-and-coming poet, or an undiscovered actor, he or she will most definitely find his/her voice and niche here at Rutgers Prep. But, I also guarantee that your children will be motivated and challenged by students who think like them them but also by students who don’t. To reference a famous proverb “though we be small, we are mighty.” With a student body of 625 students, each student at Rutgers Prep constitutes a unique facet of our community.

Now, some of you may have noticed that I tend to use the word “community” as opposed to school, quite often. I don’t say community because I like the way the word sounds, or because I am attempting to minimize the word “school” from my vocabulary. Rather, I believe that there is no other word that can accurately describe our school’s functionality, our dynamic, and the way we operate. Rutgers Prep isn’t a series of cliques barred from interacting with each other socially. There are no jocks, there isn’t one cohort of nerds. Here at Rutgers Prep, we’re one all-accommodating community, one that we all find ourselves grown proud to be a part of.

With that being said, I would like to welcome you all, once again, to this community. I hope you enjoy the rest of your year.”

– Arjun Ahluwalia ’16

Literacy Camp

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One of the true strengths of the Rutgers Prep experience is the interconnected nature of our community; the cross-divisional activities our faculty routinely plan for our students provide them with some extraordinary opportunities for both growth and reflection. Last month, our fourth grade students were the delighted recipients of a visit by our AP Spanish students, who helped as they engaged in several rousing rounds of Spanish-language Bingo. Last week, it was the fourth graders who had an opportunity to step into the leadership role, as they paired up with their kindergarten buddies for a new activity called “Literacy Camp.”

“We set up four different activity stations for the students, and at each point the kindergartners would be stretched a bit, so their buddies were there to help and support,” shared Kindergarten teacher Wendy Jankowski. In tents set up by our peerless facilities crew, around a built-for-the occasion imaginary pond, and at sunny picnic tables, our kindergartners gathered with their fourth grade buddies to try their hand at a variety of different literacy-themed activities.

“I liked the fishing the best,” said kindergartner Ethan ‘27.

“I could write all of the words I caught!” Brody ‘27 shared with a grin. “He did really well,” Brody’s fourth grade buddy Madi ‘23 proudly confirmed.

Fourth grader Matthew ‘23 shared, “Some of the activities seemed hard for my buddy at first, but then they got easier.”

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“And I can’t wait to eat the s’mores!” said Raveena ‘23 with a smile. (Okay, there wasn’t much of a literacy tie-in to the s’mores, but shared snack time was a real treat for the students once they had completed their other tasks.)

It was wonderful to see the level of engagement on the part of our young learners, and to witness the spring in the steps of our fourth graders after they had successfully taken on their leadership roles. Activities like our “Literacy Camp” remind us of how fortunate we are to have such creative and committed faculty working with our students on a daily basis.