Ninth grade students viewed refugee crises through a variety of lenses over several months, both in their classes and from expert visitors—including a panel of young Milwaukee students with first-hand experience.
If Fred Rogers saw something scary on the news, he has remarked, his mother would reassure him by
saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Upper School humanities
teachers had that quote in mind when they selected “A Land of Permanent Goodbyes” as the assigned 2019 summer reading for 9th graders. The second novel by journalist Atia Abawi is about refugees escaping from war-torn Syria, and bridges the 9th grade English and World Civilization curricula. “In 9th Grade English we give them challenging literature in terms of language and content, and they are faced with harsh realities in World Civ,” said Emily Ihrke, Upper School English teacher. “But the idea that there are helpers, that we can be helpers, is really critical in balancing that message for 9th graders. We want to help them build their own resilience.”
Abawi visited University School of Milwaukee on Friday, Sept. 27 to discuss the book with students. Her
visit was the culmination of a week of events in which 9th grade students explored issues related to refugees. On Monday, Sept. 23, they watched a screening of “Refugee Kids: One Small School Takes on the World,” and on Tuesday, Sept. 24 they met with a panel of students from Milwaukee’s South Division High School who have come to the United States seeking asylum from Burma, Syria, and a number of African countries. “I think for 9th graders, seeing kids their age who have faced these challenges made the experience of refugees feel a little bit more real,” said Samantha Adey,
Upper School history teacher.
In addition, Erin Barbato, director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the University of Wisconsin Law School, spoke to students about the various ways by which individuals can seek American citizenship.
“These kinds of experiences have always been some of the richest parts of being a student here at
University School,” said Kate Gay, Upper School English teacher. “Students really enjoy having conversations with people who are experts, who have seen a lot and can share a lot.”