2016-05-05 / News

Students learn firsthand about citizenship

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO – For fourth-graders at C. K. Burns Elementary School, a naturalization ceremony held in the school last week was a firsthand opportunity to learn about the process for an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen. Fourth-grade teacher Cathy Baillargeon said the children study immigration throughout the year as part of their social studies education.

“It’s a whole integrative unit, so students end up writing about a topic about immigration,” Baillargeon said.

Fourth-grade teacher Andrea Conley said the ceremony helped demonstrate how immigration is not just a part of the country’s history, but is happening in the present.

“We tend to focus more on the end of the century, on Ellis Island,” Conley said. “Just being able to have this kind of ceremony was wonderful because kids are able to see that it’s still going on today.”

The ceremony held in the school gymnasium on April 28 naturalized 52 new citizens from 24 countries. Reza Jalali, director of multicultural studies at University of Southern Maine, spoke to the candidates about the importance of being a good U.S. citizen by volunteering and voting.

“It was good for the students to hear, too, about the things that American citizens have, the freedoms we have,” Conley said.

Melanie Strout, 9, said the ceremony brought her mixed emotions.

“I thought some of the things that people said up there kind of really, kind of made me sad and happy at the same time,” Melanie said, pointing out that she was happy for them to become American citizens but sad for the conditions in some of their home countries.

“They mostly want a better life,” she said.

Korrinne Greer, 10, said the ceremony helps her appreciate living in a free country even more.

“Sometimes in other countries, they’re living by people who don’t like them or they’re not allowed to believe what they want to believe,” Greer said.

Emma Luigi, 10, said the students have been keeping a journal, pretending to be an immigrant, as part of their studies, and she chose to write as if she were an Italian immigrant.

Conley said about 200 students were in attendance for the naturalization ceremony, which the school hopes to make an annual event. Baillargeon said she believes it is the first time such a ceremony was held in the elementary school.

Strout said learning about immigration and the process of becoming a citizen has helped her understand what her stepfather, who is from Britain, will have to do.

“He’s going to have to do all the stuff they did,” she added.

“It was moving,” Baillargeon said. “It was heartwarming that the entire fourth grade got to be the audience and they really did get it. They understand the significance.”

“For our students, just being able to see the candidates, the oath they had to take, was pretty powerful,” Conley said. “The importance of leaving your own country and becoming an American, the students realized the importance.”

One student, who recently became an American, welcomed the new citizens with a speech of his experience adjusting to a new culture.

“The student talked about seeing snow for the first time, eating a burrito for the first time. The students enjoyed hearing a student from their own school,” Conley said.

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