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Diverse Group of Second-Graders Learns to Embrace Rich Family Histories

By Benjamin Woodard | March 31, 2014 9:39am
 Paul Hartman (upper l.) teaches his second-grade students at Armstrong Elementary School about how to record family histories.
Paul Hartman (upper l.) teaches his second-grade students at Armstrong Elementary School about how to record family histories.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

WEST ROGERS PARK — The families of Paul Hartman's second-grade students at Armstrong Elementary School come from all over the world.

They hail from countries like Eritrea, Pakistan and Nigeria, speaking languages like Urdu, Somali, Spanish, and more.

And their family histories are so interesting, Hartman said, that he wanted to teach his students how to capture them.

"I think a lot of the kids, they don't want to be seen as different, so they're really shy if they speak another language at home or [talk about] where they come from," said the 32-year-old language arts and social studies teacher. "I don’t have that experience, but I thought it was a shame. ... I wanted the kids to start realizing that the stories [of] their families are really rich."

Hartman said he'd tasked his students to gather those stories from their family members.

He said the project not only teaches students to embrace their heritage, it also develops their listening and speaking skills.

On a Friday in March, Hartman invited Marie Scatena, a historian from the University of Illinois at Chicago, to speak to his students about how to conduct an interview.

Hartman also invited a few of his students' parents — like Tahira Malook, 62 — to stop by to be interviewed in front of the class.

Malook, the grandmother of 7-year-old Anecka Aamir, grew up in Pakistan.

She pointed the country out on a world map hanging on the classroom's wall as the students looked on. She traveled to Chicago when she was 30.

Scatena and the students rattled off questions.

"Education is much better," Malook said of America. But in her home country, the food is much spicier.

"How did you learn to cook?" asked one of the students.

"I watched," Malook said, just as her granddaughter, who was leaning on her side during the interview, does now.

Aamir said learning about her grandmother's history was "exciting." And, just like at home, her favorite part of her grandmother's history is the food.

Over the next couple months, Hartman's students will use digital voice recorders — bought with money raised from friends, family and supporters — to ask family members about their history and how they made it to Chicago.

Then, Hartman said, the students will compile what they learned into a presentation at the end of the school year.

"I think it’s so cool that it’ll be archived," he said, "and that story will never be lost."