My students last year – all English Learners, immigrants and refugees – were introduced to Emma Lazarus in our high school social studies class. The Emma Lazarus Project, a partnership between The American Jewish Historical Society, Facing History and Ourselves, and Re-imagining Migration provides primary sources for exploring American identity. These tools provide students an opportunity to learn about the life and work of a dynamic, female poet from the nineteenth century. For those who may not know, Emma Lazarus is the author of the New Colossus, the poem found at the base of the Statue of Liberty and immortalized by generations of Americans. Her status from a wealthy New York Jewish family allowed Emma to volunteer and support newly arrived emigrant Jews.

The Emma Lazarus Project curriculum provides a powerful platform for examining not only the past but current issues of migration and immigration. The tools and resources for the curriculum are online and easily accessible. The curriculum is aimed at middle and high school students, and I use it in Social Studies. The materials are inquiry-based, focused on primary sources, and invites students’ voices into all the lessons. Teachers may select components of the curriculum, or do as we did and complete the entire unit.

These materials resonated with my students, and discussions were animated and emotional. It became clear by their comments and reactions that they regarded the Statue of Liberty as a universal symbol of freedom, education, and escape. Some students recounted seeing the Statue of Liberty from the air as they flew into the United States for the first time. The discussions moved to the importance of Emma’s faith in her life. My students who are Christian, Muslim and atheist were interested in Emma’s Jewish faith, and her devotion to service was respected by the students.

As part of the curriculum, The American Jewish Historical Society hosted a National Poetry Contest (deadline May, 2020.). The contest was designed to invite students’ voices into the lessons and to create opportunities for critical thinking about immigration today. The assignment captured the attention of students, and many fully embraced the challenge to rewrite the poem, The New Colossus, to reflect the welcome for today’s immigrants. The students examined Emma Lazarus’ words and symbolism and imagined what she, or they, would write today.

The resulting poems are honest and transparent. Several examples of students’ work is included, and represent a range of formal educational levels. Poems were submitted by students with a history of formal education in their home countries, and by students who have experienced significant interruptions to their education. These poems not only represent these students’ ideals about America, but illustrate the progression of language acquisition. Social studies, and all content areas, have a critical role to play in language development, introducing content vocabulary and reinforcing academic language skills. As a teacher, I seek a balance between facilitating student creativity and expression while supporting students as they learn academic language skills in English.

Students’ opportunities to engage in peer editing groups to revise drafts were stymied by the movement to online learning as the pandemic surged around the world. Editing prior to leaving the school building concentrated on ensuring students’ words and thoughts were represented and preserved. Some word choices may not be evident for native English speakers, but if that is what the writer chose it was respected. Initial editing was limited to confirm student’s meanings. Please keep this in mind, and read their words with compassion and recognize the challenges the writing in a new language presents, not only as the mode for expressing deep emotion but also in the grammatical rules imposed.

As I prepare these lessons for the upcoming school year I am preparing for either online delivery or in-person class. As a template for students, I added blank lines beneath each stanza New Colossus worksheet allowing access to the original poem while providing space for writing new stanzas. Importantly, I am revising my presentation of the assignment for students by providing my own version of the poem. Initially, I refrained from offering a version of the poem, as I often do to provide examples for writing exercises. I worried as a native English speaker and history teacher, I may impose my thoughts and words onto the assignment. What I learned is that teachers need not worry, as I had, about over-influencing students by offering an example poem. The poems submitted completely altered my understanding of this assignment and reinforced the agency that students exercised in rewriting the poem. Students’ original poems were inspired by the work of Emma Lazarus, and supported by the content and context provided by the Emma Lazarus Project Curriculum. But their choices and expressions were authentic to each students’ experiences. Writing this poem was personal for students and no two poems were alike.

Reflecting on the curriculum and the high level interest resources provided, these materials supported the academic and language acquisition goals for students. Importantly for high school social studies teachers, the curriculum allows students to reflect on and represent themselves, while accessing historic primary sources. And the materials introduced engagement and action into our classroom. The work undertaken by English learners to reinterpret the New Colossus poem and rewrite it into a personal, modern context is nothing short of remarkable. Reading their words, we can see the struggles and successes of their hard work in every line. The poems show evidence of increased vocabulary and critical thinking. These drafts also provide clear guidance on language and grammatical instruction needed to support language acquisition in reading and writing. Ultimately, their poems make my heart sing, and give me hope for our future as a nation. In fact, I like to think that Emma Lazarus would feel honored, and be proud of the efforts shown by these newly arrived students who are “yearning to breathe free …”

Wanago, 21, from Somalia. Their first language is Somali and they have had significantly interrupted education.

My first day in America i was like a nightmare we couldn’t speak the language we missed our flight because we were to late i was sleep in new york then we moved to kentucky someone keswaker helps money , house , foods , clothes, books, pencil , everything two week stay home , and the next day me and with my family to go cattoley i learn school i was speak english learn then me and my sister to go to schools me my first school newcomer academy my grade 9 to 10 grade i learn many subject i speak english very well i see my friend , students, teachers help how to learn schools in America said also students and teacher welcame to schools, when i came to America im 16 yes old my age then i pass 10 grade 2years stay in America imarriage i have two children alx then i move another house i go to school iroquois me and my one sister , 3 sister to go differents. Learn subject when i came to America i see differents culture my country and different language ,different foods.

Reyneiros, 20, from Cuba. Their first language is Spanish, and they have had the benefit of regular formal education.

At the top of your crown I climbed

and from you I learned how beautiful life

is to see and discover that the future of my life is seen from you.

when you see and discover the weight you bring in chasm,

a lot of history you bring to you

and like an old book you never go to bed

And you always stay alert of what the world brings you .

in the mantle of the sun you wear these,

seeing a circle of a ship that goes like a weather vane,

carrying the new generation of leaders of a new nation

and in your hand you carry an old book with old generations,

in the prayer an old torch with new generation,

which is revealed by an old school.

Sylvie, 20, from Rwanda. Their first language is Kinyarwanda. They also speak Swahili and French and have had limited formal education.


You are welcome to the opportunity country,
Achieve your dreams with power, without worry;
When sunrise it’s your time to shine,build the future.
Being poor is not habit,not approx,is bad situation
But it has an end, don’t lose hope, you reach your mother.
Thirteen state built the bridge of success, that invite all to cereblate
Fighting for liberty is a foundation of all peace and security
Don’t worry about life,make your future secure,
The lucky land is in your hand, try to develop your brain;
Struggling to be empowered, important, desire of age.
Rise up your flag, tell the innocent that there is power in truth,
“Always together we succeed”, we made it, we help,
Lamp at the door is too lighting, tell this to all compensations
Show them the opened door, then let all entry in their ancient land.

Bahray 18, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. Their family is from Somalia, and their first language is the Mai-Mai dialect,. Bahray also speaks Somali, and has had significantly interrupted education.

welcome to America but the house is not that big so we open our shore for
you guys to live in safely and healthier.
America is one of the place that immigrants people dream of every time when they sleep and they believe one the day will come true .
but the thing is some of the family only came there dreem true like me and my family .
America is the best place to welcome the immigrant all of their heart .
My first day in the United State the airplane stop by New York City there was a laidy standing by waiting for as in side of the airport.
she bey food for us and a drink but we did not eat the food because we don’t now what maybe the government send her to check out my family
as until we learn how to live in America and the law of America so we don’t get in touching with something bad is everything we need to Know .
when people come to the America they will see everything deference from where they come from like the people language also the house the used lives in there country everything looks similar then where the form the tasty of the food and the way house looks like
because in Africa we used sleeping on the sand house bad build soil but in here people sleep on beds and the house build with a tree and all so rocky.
America is a great places to welcome the immigrants people when you first come to America where are some one the government sends you to check out your and your family until your parents learn how they can work because they will find more than job in after a week when they stay and now what to do there .
the government that sent the lady she also help as bring to school to live in there county and the law of America so you don’t get in touch with that .
America is the best place to live in when you come and start going to
school and have best friends and teachers that can help you learn the English.
when they learn how to spelling and speak English they will be so happy and
start working and send money to where back in Africa friends and family

The author of this piece is undocumented from Honduras. Their first language is believed to be an unreported dialect, and their primary language of communication is Spanish. The author has had significantly interrupted formal education.

1-Welcome to a new country.
2-You can have a better future.
3-We have the same right in this country.
4- Is a different culture in a new country.
5- Respect the rules on any side .
6- People come to another country for goals that they don’t have in their country.
7- Here you can help your family.
8- Each country is different, don’t think it is like you country.
9- I don’t care where you come from .
10- You can have the job that you wish only you need to study and work hard.
11- You have the right to study .
12- You can become a professional.
13- Don’t Feel bad if you are an immigrant you have the same opportunity.
14- Respect all the people in the county.

Below is a  template with my version of the poem

The New Colossus – BY EMMA LAZARUS

My Title: The New Appeal Name: Mrs. Neary Date:____________________

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
My beacon lights the way for all the same

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
My powerful arms exposed to lend a hand;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
This shore a haven, respite for child, woman, man,

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
I stand upon our country’s porch, and I will learn your name

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
The power of all those who came before captured in my flame

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Heed the “Statue of Liberty” as I am known throughout the land

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
My visage resolved and set, freedom for all is my demand

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Opportunity from the “hood to the hollers”* my defenders exclaim!
(*Phrase coined by 3rd Congressional Senate Candidate in Kentucky Charles Booker, 2020)

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
The stand now taken must move from they, to WE

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
My look conveys a demand, we welcome MORE

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
People who will keep our country free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
People who bring humanity, hope and more,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
Together we will fight the soulless, and counter greed,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door
I beckon to you. Help us, I implore.

This New Colossus worksheet is included in the curriculum.

Donna M. Neary teaches high school social studies in Louisville, KY. She is a 2020-2021 Re-imagining Migration Fellow, National Geographic Educator, and published author named Kentucky’s 2018 Outstanding Social Studies Teacher. Her award-winning instructional program for immigrant-origin students was selected by Multinclude in 2018; and The Christensen Institute’s Canopy Project in 2019. Her chapter on the importance of field trips to English learners was published the same year.

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