INDIANAPOLIS – The debate over whether to welcome Syrian refugees isn’t just happening in Texas or at the Indiana Statehouse. It’s also happening in classrooms.
Local students are developing some strong opinions about what our state should be doing.
“They’re trying to escape Syria for peace and better work opportunities,” 5th-grader Juliana Nuñez said. “ISIS (is) just trying to take over the country Syria, and they’re just trying to scare people.”
The students at Indianapolis Public School No. 56 on the north side are on a mission.
This week, that includes creating signs that advertise an upcoming chili lunch to raise money for Syrian refugees.
Their teacher says it wasn’t the school’s idea to help refugees: It was the students’ idea.
“This wasn’t in the plan originally,” Teacher Morgan Smith said. “We started having a conversation and I could see the kids were really interested in it, so I revised my lesson plans.”
Smith started teaching her students not just about immigration, but about the struggles in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis.
Part of the lesson is an interactive computer game that allows the students to decide how they would get out of Syria if they were refugees. They also started a letter-writing campaign to children in Syrian refugee camps.
But they’re not just writing letters to refugees. They’re writing passionate letters to Governor Mike Pence.
“Dear Governor Pence,” one letter reads. “Syrians should be allowed to come to Indiana.”
Most of the messages from these 10- and 11-year-olds call Pence’s actions (his attempts to keep Syrian refugees from entering Indiana) “unacceptable.”
“The governor thinks that one of them might be (in) ISIS, but they’re not,” 4th-grade student Ronald Graham said. He read more of his letter to Pence. “‘You can change this. Just let them in. One man can change the world: You can be that man.’”
Strong words of wisdom from students who – on their own – have formed strong opinions about the refugee crisis.
“I really believe that the work that we do with our students now can have an impact in our world in a bigger way,” Smith said.