Historic Newton is set to launch a new school program about immigration in which students will learn about families from four different countries who came to Newton in the 19th century.
The United States Federation of Friends of Museums awarded the $2,500 grant in 2017 to support a curriculum based on research about people who immigrated from Russia, Ireland, Italy, and China.
The curriculum will be available for elementary through high schools beginning in 2020.
Cynthia Cowan, manager of Historic Newton’s Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds & Anne Larner Educator, said she used US Census records to develop four realistic but fictional families and tell the stories of their lives before and after they immigrated.
As a part of the grant, Historic Newton also is obtaining children’s toys, clothing, and other artifacts to encourage hands-on experiences with the types of economic, religious, and cultural decisions immigrants had to consider when they moved to Newton.
“I looked at the history of each of the four populations to draw historical context from each family and consider the factors that pushed them to leave their home and pulled them to immigrate to Newton,” said Cowan.
The immigration initiative will be available to all schools, Cowan said, including those outside Newton. It’s designed to take place at both Historic Newton’s on-site museums as well as in classrooms at schools in the region.
Ruth Goldman, chair of Newton School Committee, said Newton is “fairly diverse” with many different languages, cultures, and religions. She said students in Newton schools speak between 30 and 70 different languages at home.
People from around the world have immigrated to Newton, Goldman said, including some who arrived recently, second-generation immigrants, and international families who come and stay in Newton for a couple of years.
“The schools are about 60 percent white but have an enormous Pan Asian population,” Goldman said. “We also do have a [fairly] significant African-American and Latino population.”
Goldman said the new immigration education program is relevant to students “since immigration is an issue on everyone’s mind right now.” Plus, she said, some historic immigrant communities deserve more attention.
“I’m hoping this will really lift up some of the less-visible communities,” Goldman said.
Kelsey Merriam, education manager of Historic Newton, said the organization’s other educational programs have focused on families related to Newton’s Colonial life, including those on the site of Jackson Homestead and the Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds.
Merriam said one goal of the new immigration program is to ensure school curriculum accurately reflects the history of “people who are living in Newton today.” Between 1990 and 2017, she said, the foreign-born population living in Newton jumped from 12 to 23 percent.
“I hope that students see themselves in these stories and gain a greater knowledge of immigration — both historically and about immigration now,” Merriam said.
Merriam said the artifacts will give students an engaging, dynamic lesson on families who immigrated to Newton.
“The artifacts are intended to be touched and handled by students and educators versus a typical museum object that is very safely guarded,” Merriam said.
Merriam said they want the program to be versatile enough to teach students from fourth through 12th grade about examining current, geopolitical issues.
“If you are teaching older students, then we could really get into some of the current events here in the United States and delve into some of these topics we are grappling with today,” Merriam said.
Camila Beiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.