Taking inspiration from the popular Flat Stanley stories of the early grades, a fifth grade project at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, FL reimagined the iconic character to help students study the immigrant experience at Ellis Island in the late 1800s.
Charged with creating a character and developing a story for him or her, the students took to the library to begin their research. “Remember, these characters’ stories must be authentic,” reminded fifth grade Social Studies teacher Sandy Janack. “What country is she from? What did she wear? What did his parents do for work? Why were they immigrating?”
Just as the students shared resources and ideas, so too did their teachers as Social Studies, Language Arts, Studio Art, and Technology faculty collaborated across disciplines. Mrs. Janack reinforced elements from a storytelling unit in Language Arts class, “We discussed the importance the setting, how the character needed a historically accurate problem, and the need to resolve that problem in a reasonable way.”
Once their stories were in place, the project moved to the art studio where teacher Cindy Williams supported the students through the process of hand-drawing the characters. The characters were then digitized in Technology class and imported into one of a number of apps including Book Creator and Comic Life, to overlay over real photo backgrounds from the original research sources.
In addition to drawing connections between subject areas, the project had a still deeper impact. “A number of students came back and told me about conversations they’d had at home with their parents about their family origins; the project connected students to their heritage.” says Janack.
According to one of the Shorecrest fifth graders, “One of the things that I enjoyed about this project was learning about all the history that happened at the Statue of Liberty. When I went to go see her I didn’t know what she really meant to people back then, now I do.”