Grade 6 students explore the lives and struggles of refugees through simulation, poetry, and reading

In 1985, Salva Dut was separated from his family when the Sudanese civil war reached his village in southwestern Sudan. He was 11 years-old, nearly the same age as our current Grade 6 students. Salva joined thousands of boys, famously known as the "Lost Boys" on their journey by foot to seek safety in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Grade 6 students explored Salva's struggles by reading the historical fiction novel A Long Walk to Water, in which the author, Linda Sue Park, details the life of Salva Dut. Through reading the book and a simulation, students were exposed to the struggles of living in a war zone with very little resources, the importance of family, and the value of perseverance. 

The book was the central element in an interdisciplinary unit coordinated between the Grade 6 English and History teachers. While students conducted a literary study of the book, they also embarked on a study of Northeastern Africa in their History class and discussed the issues that have persisted in the region for thousands of years. The history unit culminated with a study of Salva Dut's Sudan, the movement of peoples, and individual research papers about the lives of well-known refugees. 

To further engage students with this story, the Grade 6 team partnered with Dennis Wilson from Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), a federally recognized refugee resettlement agency with funding from the federal government.  In January, students participated in a simulation where they gained a better sense of what it is like to be separated from family, and the necessity to make quick decisions that could impact their lives and everyone around them.  

To explore the unit more deeply, the Grade Six team welcomed a refugee to the Middle School who was able to resettle in the United States and is now an ambassador for IRIS. Maman, a refugee from Liberia, detailed the story of how and why she came to the United States when she was just 12 years-old, leaving most of her siblings and her mother behind. Students were able to ask questions that they had written during history class, which helped them better connect and understand her experience. Questions ranged from "What was the hardest part of your journey?" to "What kept you motivated during this difficult time?". 

As a culminating project, students took part in a poetry slam and took turns reading the poems they wrote about famous refugees they researched in History class. Students wrote Found Poems, I Am From Poems, and Free Verse Poems which included figurative language that painted a vivid picture of the hardships and successes each of their refugees experienced.

Karen Raidt, Director of King Cares Service, and Gilles Chosson, Director of Global Education, expressed, "We are very excited about this inquiry-based initiative, as it is part of our continuing effort to better integrate global and service-related initiatives into our existing curricula. By gaining more exposure to diverse cultures and perspectives through innovative, authentic, and meaningful experiences, students will be better prepared for lifelong civic and social responsibility in an increasingly diverse, and global society."

Grade 6 English is dedicated to the exploration of multicultural voices. The essential question: Who am I? takes on greater meaning as students explore a series of stories from around the world. This course of study is designed to teach students to recognize that all people are interconnected, to broaden their appreciation and respect of cultural diversity, and to consider world history from multiple cultural perspectives. Learn more about the Middle School program at King.