Immigration is one of today’s foremost issues. It captures headlines, dominates presidential debates, and is a permanent—and growing—part of American life. Since 1965 alone, nearly 59 million immigrants have moved to the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. At WT’s City Campus, a recently transformed social studies unit is helping fifth graders to develop the ability to view the world through others’ eyes and to realize that all people share a common bond.

“It’s easy to think of those leaving their home countries as numbers or statistics,” explains fifth grade teacher Karen Gaul. “Working with the StoryBox project, an innovative digital platform developed by Saturday Light Brigade Radio Productions, allows students to recognize that immigrants are real people, not just statistics on the evening news.”

Long a cornerstone of WT’s fifth grade curriculum, the immigration study centers on historical and modern waves of immigration to the United States, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. Now, added emphasis on cultural competence—“the ability to successfully interact with others who may have customs, beliefs, or attitudes that are different than one’s own,” says Gaul—is deepening cultural understanding. The most powerful work happens when students meet immigrants to interview them about their lives, and document their stories for the StoryBox project.

“The opportunity to connect personally with an immigrant is unparalleled,” asserts Gaul. “It’s the personal connection that makes this experience profound for the fifth graders.”

Through a City as Our Campus℠ partnership, students begin with a visit to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, home to the Saturday Light Brigade radio studios, where they learn techniques for interviewing, audio editing, and radio production. Next, students sit with their story subjects to record interviews. Afterward, guided by Lower School librarian Suzy Flynn, students craft personal reflections about their experience.

“It really struck me when Nazir (Noori) talked about his family,” wrote Nur Turner. “It was like his emotions bled through. He talked about how the Taliban threatened him in Afghanistan.”

“Shawnee Ferydouri (from Iran) taught me to be strong even if there are situations that you don’t want to deal with,” reflected Georgie Rabner. “She wants everyone to have hope and know that things will get better.”

The project culminated with a celebration at the Children’s Museum, where the StoryBox containing recordings of student reflections and immigrant interviews was unveiled.

“I thought that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to interview someone who came here from so far away,” wrote Rishi Mukherjee, who interviewed an immigrant from Mexico. “I am lucky to learn about and be inspired by Maria’s life story.”