Educator Spotlight:
Lauren Schultz

Lauren Schultz, Re-imagining Migration Fellow (2018-present) is Media Coordinator at Independence High School, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lauren is a school librarian, and her main role in the school is instructional support. She spends her time supporting teachers with research and inquiry in their classrooms, including collaborating and co-planning instruction. 

Lauren attended our Fellows Seminar in the summer of 2018, which prompted her to rethink how migration is taught in Charlotte, and how it might be taught more effectively. To do that work, Lauren identified teachers on her staff who she thought would be interested in creating a project together. She contacted teachers who work with both English Learners (ELs) and non-English Learners students. Lauren worked with teachers Mallory Sattler and Kristen Fox (2019-20 fellow). Together they developed a curriculum for an English seminar that aimed to help students learn about migration as a fundamental part of the human condition, as well as of the American story. You will learn more about Lauren as you read below.

Aakanksha Gupta: Hi Lauren! Thanks for speaking with us today. We’d love to hear about what brought you to this work and why you think it’s important.

Lauren Schultz: My school is one of the most diverse schools in Charlotte across all areas – socioeconomically, racially and ethnically diverse. We have an expanding EL population – they make up close to 30% of the population. Charlotte continues to grow, it’s a city (the 16th largest city in the US). I’m not originally from here, I’m from the North. 

It is a migrant population that is coming here, where people are finding work. It’s not going to change anytime soon. As our school changes, in its own way, despite it being pretty diverse – it’s pretty segregated. That’s pretty common across our district, certainly. It is important to make sure that students understand that migration is a part of the human experience, that it is something we do as people. While it is politically divisive in the US, it shouldn’t be, because it’s just what we do.

Down here, you have to be careful about how you teach at school. We have urban and rural within the school, and there’s this culture clash. How do we try to build an understanding toward students that are coming here? How do we make them feel welcome without ruffling feathers? When you’re teaching, it’s not neutral, but it comes across as neutral. Trying to build understanding for others – that spoke to me, the need to really do something. 

It’s really important for kids to understand current events but in an empathetic nature. It’s something that we wanted to start tackling – making our kids more prepared to participate in society while understanding the needs of others. Sometimes we encounter students who just don’t understand, and we want them to. 

AG: Could you tell us more about the inquiry unit you and your team created? How was it received by students? 

LS: The inquiry unit was “Foundations of English 1” for 9th-grade students. It was taught by myself and two English teachers. 50% of the kids that were taught were ELs. We made it interdisciplinary to help them make connections between the content – how does English relate to Art, Social Studies, and other disciplines? 

The unit lasted for two weeks, with different inquiry activities to help them learn about human migration as a part of the human condition, and not unique to the time. It was for students that aren’t of immigrant-origin to have more of an understanding and empathy. And for students who are born in other countries to feel proud and feel like they have a common heritage with each other. We didn’t tell them that they would be learning about migration, we wanted them to figure it out for themselves. 

We started off by having them look at pictures throughout history that represent migration. We had the kids make guesses about what they thought the pictures depicted. We used the question formation technique: learning how to ask open-ended questions about what you see in order to get your mind going. 

From there, we had them make predictions about what they are learning about. That set the tone for where they were going. The next day, we went over vocabulary – what’s the difference between words, to help them understand what each of them means. We did an activity about push-pull factors – why do we migrate? 

The activity was – list, group, label, and theorize. They were given 25 pictures and based on those, they had to group them by push-pull factors (they have to figure this out for themselves). There were images showing natural disasters, economic opportunities, war – different reasons for migration. They then had to theorize about why these pictures connect – they got pretty close. They were able to figure it out for the most part. They shared that with one another – now they understood more about why people migrate.

To discuss American immigration, we used pieces from the Re-imagining Migration website, the students did a jigsaw with these. 

One part of it is that students lack the historical context. In North Carolina, kids don’t really learn history until middle school. When they learn about it in middle school, it’s very brief. When they are freshmen in high school, they really haven’t dived into American history at all. They lack the context to make connections. Also not an understanding of geography. 50% of the students are new to the country or have come to the US in the past 2 years. What we did was we created something Ed Puzzle videos – created a video for each pack that provided students with historical context in very general terms so that they can make connections with the text. Embedded were quiz questions to make sure they’re paying attention and making connections. They were able to understand the text significantly better when they understood the history and geography of what was going on. With one group, we realized the problem: “You can just google it and look it up” – I realized that they didn’t even know where to go from there. It became more of a history lesson, which is good. 

Then they answered text-dependent questions about that so that they understood it clearly and were able to talk to other students in the class about themes and observation – ultimately trying to answer the question of throughout American history “who can be an American?” across different time periods in American immigration.

Their homework for that – we told them that they had to bring in an object or an image of an object they’d be willing to talk about with the class. We used the Tenement Museum’s Your Story, Our Story collection. Students investigated the website and chose a common theme and grouped objects by theme: religious objects, food, clothing, etc. They picked one – it was like a pathfinder – and picked out information about the objects on the website. How is this personal? How does it represent migration experience? After this, in their groups, they shared their personal objects and drew connections about the importance of an object and why they chose to bring those with them. Kids brought things they chose to bring with them – to make it more personal and understand how the object can represent the human experience.

After that, they did a gallery walk of art from the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, and other artwork online about migration experiences. They also looked at the Jacob Lawrence painting about the Great Migration. They were theorizing about what they thought the artwork was about, and then we came together and talked about it. That was really interesting because it led to a far more in-depth discussion than I anticipated about history, and these different experiences and what they see in art. One of them chose a butterfly – we previously viewed The Butterfly Project at LJCC – making connections between butterflies and migration. This led to a wider discussion, which was very exciting. 

We then used the Moving Stories app – first, they took the 10 questions (shortened ones for teachers) and had to write a personal narrative answering those, to tie to the English and writing focus. For those that felt comfortable, they recorded it on the Moving Stories app. Some of them didn’t because of their documentation status and didn’t want it shared. However, they did share with classmates and wrote them down for teachers. Even students that weren’t immigrant-origin were able to connect to their families histories. Even when you move homes, you’re migrating. Some of them aren’t originally from Charlotte – moving to a different city and neighborhood is also migration. They brought that together and tied in how they learned about human migration.

Kids’ reactions were really positive overall. To quote one, “I didn’t realize that history and art and all that could be learned about in English class too.” All these things that they learned about in school are connected to one another.

AG: What’s next for you and the teachers? We’re so excited that Kristen has joined us as a Re-imagining Migration fellow this year. 

LS: We’re planning on improving on the unit and are building out another one. We are hoping to dive-in deeper – next [academic] year, we’re getting Latin American Studies and African American Studies at our school. With the teacher that is teaching those classes, we talked about potentially doing something together relating to migration as it blends very well with those disciplines. We had success with kids who were considered reluctant learners – makes sense to expand it to more kids.

What is your advice for teachers who are doing or planning to do similar work? 

  1. What and why?
    You have to consider the big picture. You have to consider repercussions if there are going to be any. You have to understand what you are doing and why.
  2. How?
    Think critically about how you are doing it. Our unit, despite it being an inquiry, was highly structured. Everything that we did was specifically tied to our standards. In this case, it was the state English standards and also library standards. The best justification for doing something in any principal’s eyes is that it’s tied to standards and curriculum. There are ways of teaching where you can take tough content and kids can tackle it. 
  3. Be deliberate.
    Don’t make assumptions about your students’ ability level – tackling a tough subject might come with that “my students can’t” viewpoint. That’s not the viewpoint to have. If it’s interesting enough for them, they will do it, and try to learn about it. You have to be very deliberate in what you’re doing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us about your wonderful work!

You can watch Lauren’s EdPuzzle videos here: