Letters to Amnesty International from LV English Language Learners

February 7, 2017

Ms. Elena Esman, English Department teacher and Bilingual Coordinator, is of the philosophy that "students are most engaged when they really care about the outcome of their work".  By this, she does not mean that a student is focused on the grade; rather, Ms. Esman has seen her students pour themselves into a project because they are invested in their project's positive outcome for society.  Most recently, her beginning English as a Second Language class took on a task set forth by Amnesty International to become informed and take action for human rights across the globe.  

The roots of this project are connected to a three-year working relationship with Asian Americans Advancing Justice.  Ms. Tina Mah, also a teacher in the English Department, and Ms. Esman began participating in the Kinetic program to develop actionable social justice issues that affect immigrant youth.  Kinetic and Lake View teachers worked together to create a series of learning modules and collaborative projects titled "Society & I".  Each project has a real world, social justice application(s) and is connected to rigorous standards for English language learning.  In 2015, Ms. Esman was teaching her ESL students about interrogatives and forming questions.  They implemented that skill on a stage at Northeastern Illinois University asking questions at the Chicago Mayoral Candidate Forum.  Ms. Esman says, "the sparkle in their eyes" sold her on the impact of project-based learning through a social justice lens.  

Amnesty International offered a global program where students could research an issue within Amnesty International suggested topics and write a position letter.  As beginning ESL students, Ms. Esman helped to differentiate the instruction and provide strategies for them to read the materials in English, their second language. The students read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and testimony of investigations regarding human rights violations. However, her students became so engrossed in the project that they took it upon themselves to research the history of human rights violations in several countries, including their own countries of origin.  They wrote letters to world leaders about topics for which they developed a deep passion.  In addition, they presented their research and their recommendations for change to Social Studies classrooms at Lake View High School.  

Ms. Esman says that "project-based learning for social justice has changed her classroom."  At Lake View High School, we believe that real-world application for classroom learning is the cornerstone of a STEM education.