Use Immigration Narratives to Build a Sense of Belonging in Classrooms


The classroom is a place where students learn much more than coursework. It is one of the primary places where students discover the great diversity of the world through personal encounters, coursework and underlying themes. All students have been affected in some way by the movement of people around the globe, yet certain stories of migration and immigration bring pride and admiration, while others are used to shame students or set them apart.

So how can all students see themselves as equal participants in the global story of human migration? Can that shared identity inspire a sense of community and belonging, even in multicultural spaces? The Immigrant Learning Center’s free, annual online workshop, 2019 Immigrant Student Success: Strategies and Tools for K-12 and Adult Educators, provided techniques to empower students to be creative thinkers and active contributors to a diverse, global society.

Teachers can promote integration, mutual respect and a shared sense of belonging for students of every age. Presenters in the 2019 Student Success workshop have developed creative techniques that help students tell their own stories, find common ground with others, and critically engage with the human story of migration and cross-cultural interaction.

In this video, Adam Strom explains why a sense of inclusion is deeply important and how students’ immigration histories can be a source of both inclusion and exclusion.


All students have unique identities and generations of history behind their arrival in the classroom. Ask your students to share about their ethnic identities and their family histories of migration. You can help vulnerable students feel more comfortable by setting ground rules for respectful communication, sharing about your own identity and giving a historical context for common immigration stories in your classroom community.

Help your students not only tell their stories but also to bring it to life using food, music, literature or artwork. Younger students may be better able to express their understanding of identity and family history through a creative project. Older students may want to share a homemade recipe, play recordings of music, or share a story or poetry.

Use media to broaden the horizons of your classroom

While all students have been affected by migration in one way or another, no classroom is a perfect microcosm of a diverse society. Teachers can help students understand and empathize with immigrants or members of diverse cultures by going on field trips or sharing stories using other media, such as the projects below.

Even in a multicultural student body, it can be beneficial for teachers to share immigration stories through other mediums as it can relieve minority students from the pressure of having to act as sole ambassadors for their culture and complement their stories in a different way.

Look for Common Themes

Participants in the 2019 Immigrant Student Success online workshop had the chance to share their own family histories and look for points of commonality. Whether they were newcomers themselves or their ancestors immigrated generations ago, many stories overlapped. In almost every case of voluntary migration, the search for a better life was the driving force.

Likewise, when students are able to find common ground across cultures and across histories, it can illustrate the common fears, hopes and motivations that shape the movement of people and cultures. It can also prime students to search for common ground even if it is not immediately evident when meeting new classmates, peers and even neighbors.

These strategies can be used with students of all ages, with some modification.

Young children will have a very basic understanding of their ethnicity or family immigration story. Encourage their curiosity using songs that celebrate multicultural understanding. With older students, teachers can incorporate more involved ways to develop appreciation for diversity, such as reading novels or biographies that showcase different groups.

In this video, Federico Salas-Isnardi demonstrates how to analyze for common themes.


When all students can place their own stories and identities in the context of a common narrative instead of something that sets them apart, it fosters greater self-understanding, mutual respect and curiosity about the rest of the world.

Sign up here for more information about our annual educator online workshops and other online training opportunities.

Educator Spotlight: Denzil Mohammed, Immigrant Learning Center

In the U.S. and across the globe, instances of anti-immigrant bias and discrimination are drastically increasing. The need to be aware and to humanize the experiences of migration is more pressing than ever. This work has led us to the The Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, MA, where we spoke with Denzil Mohammed, Director of their Public Education Institute.

Communications Specialist

The Immigrant Learning Center is adding a Communications Specialist to our team to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of communication activities, including researching and implementing best practices and measuring results. The composition of the workload will be fluid and subject to change according to opportunities and projects that arise.

Position Reports to:

Director of Communications. Specialist will also work closely with the Development team, Public Education Institute staff and other departments.

Responsibilities will include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Work with the team to develop communications strategies that engage a wide range of audiences
  • Clearly communicate the mission using both words and visuals to tell compelling stories. Adopt The Immigrant Learning Center’s voice/tone across a variety of content
  • Create content for website (WordPress), social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.), email (Constant Contact), newsletters, brochures etc.
  • Support media relations and outreach, track media coverage and develop media lists for future outreach
  • Administrative or other tasks as assigned by director of communications


Must-Have Qualifications:

  • U.S. work authorization
  • 2+ years relevant experience
  • Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in related field or equivalent experience
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Suite
  • Desire to make the world a better place demonstrated by paid or unpaid experience working on an issue you feel passionate about
  • Ability to create effective content for a variety of media in a non-academic setting
  • Attention to detail, including proofreading, grammar and spelling
  • Respect for goals, deadlines and budgets: you meet concurrent deadlines by setting priorities, organizing time, and identifying resources and assistance as needed
  • Strong collaborator and team member, able to work independently and take initiative
  • Commitment to continuous improvement, you seek feedback and offer it freely and respectfully


Desirable Qualifications:

  • Experience with WordPress or related CMS
  • Experience with Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator)
  • Experience with Constant Contact marketing platform
  • Experience with basic photography
  • Strong visual literacy
  • Experience managing professional social media accounts
  • Familiarity with current web trends in social media, email marketing, SEO, etc.
  • Strong interpersonal skills and a good sense of humor



This is a full-time, non-exempt position with an annual salary of $45,000 and paid vacation and sick time.



To apply, please send an application packet with a cover letter, resume, and two samples of your work to:

 (Subject line: Communications Specialist). Review of applications will begin immediately.  No phone calls please.


About Us:

The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that gives immigrants a voice in three ways. The English Language Program provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston to help them become successful workers, parents and community members. The Public Education Institute informs Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society. The Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture with George Mason University, conducts research on the economic contributions of immigrants.

The Immigrant Learning Center is committed to equal employment opportunity for all qualified persons regardless of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, genetic information, disability, marital status, veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law. This commitment is evident throughout The Immigrant Learning Center’s employment practices and policies, including those related to recruiting, hiring, compensation, benefits, training, transfers, promotions and terminations.

Immigrant Learning Center founder asks if we’ve already forgotten our past history

Some may look at children in detention facilities at our southern border and think, “They’re not our kids.” I am a proud, naturalized U.S. citizen, and when I see the deplorable conditions we’ve put these children in, I think, “that could have been me.”

Massachusetts immigrant entrepreneurs sought for honors

The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. seeks outstanding immigrant entrepreneurs to be honored at the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards. Nominations are being accepted now through September 2, 2019, for outstanding immigrant business founders in four categories: business growth, neighborhood business, high-tech business and life science business. Self-nominations are encouraged.


Local volunteers honored for their dedication to creating a welcoming community

Under the direction of The ILC teachers, volunteers spend three hours a day, one to four days a week, helping foreign-born adults learn reading, writing, grammar and conversation skills in English, prepare to become U.S. citizens, and increase their understanding of American culture.


Tickets On Sale Today For Cerise Jacobs’ I AM A DREAMER WHO NO LONGER DREAMS

SING OUT STRONG: Immigrant Voices has partnered with the Immigrant Learning Center … Immigrant Voices is matching new or first-generation immigrant writers who live in Massachusetts with composers who are also new or first-generation immigrants, or who strongly identify with the immigrant experience. The resulting songs will be presented both throughout the community and to mainstage audiences, bridging the gulf that typically exists between a company’s operatic productions and its community and educational outreach activities.

You make a difference to many moms

Juan Yan came to the United States with her husband and young daughter to be closer to her in-laws nearly 10 years ago. She was a manager in a retail store in China, but since coming to this country she has concentrated on raising her children. She has three, one born in China and two born here. Once her children reached school-age, Juan Yuan could concentrate on her own education and career.

She came to The Immigrant Learning Center to learn English and study for the citizenship exam. Juan Yan recently became a U.S. citizen and could not be more proud. In March, she found a job at Dunkin Donuts where she can work while her children are in school. Now that she has achieved her goals, she has stopped coming to The ILC, and one of the 800 people on the waiting list can start pursuing their dreams.

Thank you for making stories like this possible through your continued support.







Diane Portnoy
Founder and CEO
The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.

Spotlight on Public Education

In this interview with Re-imagining Migration, The ILC Public Education Institute Director Denzil Mohammed explains our work to support educators and combat mis-information and anti-immigrant bias.

If you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift on Amazon, start at, and AmazonSmile will donate a portion of your purchase to The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. If you have immigrant heritage, consider donating to The ILC in honor of your mother, and those before her who made life in this country possible.

Coming Attractions

Join us for 18 rounds of golf on Monday June 10, 2019, or just come for the sumptuous dinner at  The ILC 2019 Golf Classic. Either way, you’ll have fun and feel good knowing you’re giving immigrants a voice.

The latest free webinar from The ILC Public Education Institute, Beyond Partisan: Bridging Divides Across the Immigration Debate, on Wednesday, May 8, 2019,  features experts sharing the national landscape of immigration opinion, the messages that resonate best with Americans and strategies for building coalitions across political lines.

The Immigrant Learning Center®, Inc. (ILC) of Malden, MA, is a not-for-profit organization that gives immigrants a voice in three ways. The English Language Program provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston to help them become successful workers, parents and community members. The Public Education Institute informs Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society, and the Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture with George Mason University, conducts research on the economic contributions of immigrants.

LittleBits CEO Talks New Disney Partnership, Girls in STEM & Immigrant Entrepreneurship

Founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir launched littleBits in 2011 and has raised more than $60 million in venture capital funding. LittleBits is headquartered in New York City, where Bdeir moved after earning her master’s at MIT’s Media Lab; she’s originally from Beirut, Lebanon.

Seder celebrates contributions of immigrants

It took Esther Karinge 24 years to be granted asylum. She is a teacher’s aide in Medford Public Schools and board member of the Immigrant Learning Center.