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Connecting real-life stories to the study of literature

After the seventh-graders at Chicago City Day School read When Stars Are Scattered, an acclaimed graphic novel about life in a refugee camp, they wanted to learn more about the refugee experience.

So their teacher, Mr. Thomas, reached out to Madonna Mission, a not-for-profit organization that provides education and resettlement support programs for refugees and their families in Chicago. Madonna Mission connected Mr. Thomas with three former members of their programs who were interested in discussing their experiences with our students.

The refugees who talked to the City Day students come from Nepal, Myanmar, and Zambia. Two of them are high school students, and one is in college. They talked about a variety of subjects, from cultural differences like adjusting to American food to the challenges they experienced on their journeys to the United States. 

“I think it was important for our students to hear refugees talk about what they went through to get here,” Mr. Thomas said. “It shed a lot of light on the larger situation affecting refugees.”

City Day seventh-graders said their conversations gave them a deeper understanding of the challenges refugees face and brought a personal connection to the story they read. 

“I learned a lot about the refugee crisis around the world, and the conversation made me think about how different a woman’s life would be in America compared to in a refugee camp,” said one City Day seventh-grader, who talked to a female refugee from Nepal. 

“To hear about another person’s situation, someone whose life has been so much harder than ours, was really eye-opening,” said another seventh-grader. 

Mr. Thomas added that the conversations deepened the class’s study of When Stars Are Scattered, which was developed into a graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson, based on the experience of Omar Mohamed, a Somali man who grew up in a refugee camp.

“In our curriculum, we’re looking at how characters are developed in fiction and how that translates to our own experiences,” Mr. Thomas said, “but I think students will look at character development a bit differently after meeting real people who have had such challenging experiences that have shaped who they have become.”

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