Students at Swanton Middle School this month got to hear a first-hand account of how civil war has impacted millions of Syrians. Students welcomed guests from local refugee resettlement and immigration agency, US Together, and Syrian refugee Ahmad Tahhan.
Students listened to a presentation by US Together on the history of Syria and how civil war has affected the lives of millions of Syrians like Tahhan. Students were also given the opportunity to ask questions about the work of US Together, the refugee experience, and how they can help Syrian families coming to our community.
“I create lessons that include connections outside of our school. I had teachers that brought books to life for me through field trips and guests,” said Swanton teacher Kevin Heintschel. “I wanted to give that same experience to our kids.”
The English classes of Heintschel, Lindsay Vance, and Emily Tomanski invited their guests to Swanton as a way to bring the books “Refugee” and “Amal Unbound” to life.
“I wanted our students to learn about real people who’ve experienced hardships similar to the character in our book, Mahmoud, who is from Syria. We watched two stories about Toledo’s role in refugee resettlement as a reference,” Heintschel said. “From those stories, I learned about US Together and the importance of our community to Syrians seeking new lives. With Mrs. Vance’s and Mrs. Tomanski’s classes reading a book with a similar setting, I invited them to take part with my classes.”
These classes are reading the two novels as part of their participation in the Global Read Aloud, a reading initiative organized by teacher, Pernille Ripp, connecting over 4,000,000 students from around the globe. Participants read the same book during a defined time period of the school year, and interact with each other through postcard exchanges, video conferencing, and online competitions.
This year, students from Heintschel’s English classes have made connections with over 280 schools around the globe through a postcard exchange and online conferencing using the website Padlet.
US Together is an Ohio-based refugee assistance agency. Since 2005, it has helped refugees resettle in the Toledo, Columbus, and Cleveland areas from the former Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, and Syria.
Refugees, like Tahhan, typically come to the United States with assistance from the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) to escape religious or political persecution, war, or natural disaster. They are often unable to return to their home country. Communities, such as the Toledo area, have a reputation for being refugee-friendly due to the presence of agencies like US Together and a low cost of living. Refugees coming to the area are seeking a new beginning, safety, and an opportunity to become American citizens.
“Our students learned about the rich history of Syria. They learned about how the civil war has destroyed that country and forced millions to leave everything behind for a safer life,” said Heintschel. “I hope that they learned why people want to come to our country and community from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. This also helps our kids be better citizens to those who are different from them.”