Walking Through History

Large group image of participants and workers with the United Healthcare organization.

Walking Through History with the 1199SEIU in New York, NY

Every day across the East Coast, members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East are helping Americans to give birth, get lab tests, live longer in their own homes, and navigate the healthcare system. On April 11, 2018, fifteen home health aides who are students in 1199SEIU’s USCIS - funded Citizenship Program took some time to learn how to navigate around New York City, experience American history first-hand, and gain confidence to explore new places—all while learning English. 

Led by instructor Clifford Moy, the students left their normal classroom near Times Square and traversed Lower Manhattan. Beginning at Federal Plaza where USCIS, the IRS, and the African Burial Ground National Memorial are located, they later stopped at New York City Hall, the Woolworth Building, and St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church. They also visited One World Trade Center, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub (Oculus), the 9/11 Tribute Museum and Memorial, and the Federal Hall National Memorial. The trip ended at Bowling Green with the National Museum of the American Indian–New York and the statue of the Charging Bull.

The locations were chosen to deepen the students’ understanding of the American history that they had already reviewed in class. Because of USCIS’ Citizenship and Integration Grant, the 1199SIEU Citizenship Program added the excursion to their class schedule early in the planning stages, allowing their instructors time to prepare both pre- and post-trip discussions. The trip was also an activity that students looked forward to attending, which helped with student retention.

To prepare for the trip, each student received brochures of the sites they were going to visit, a handout with admission information, a detailed map, and a homework assignment related to the excursion. Once the group reached a particular site in the city, Moy gave a brief description of the site and asked related questions from the 100 civics questions on the naturalization test.

Students practiced their English and answered questions they had been studying in the classroom, all while seeing history in a new way. The American Indian museum expanded on what they had learned about Native American tribes, and the 9/11 museum transformed that day from a pinpoint on a timeline into a real-life feeling of the impact the attacks had on the nation. Understanding New York City’s history and identity as a major financial center also increased the students’ sense of belonging in the city. 

Getting out of the classroom and seeing history before their eyes was often a moving experience. They were affected by the 9/11 memorials they visited, mentioning the sadness of reading victims’ names. After the trip, students expressed how much they enjoyed spending the time with each other and their instructor—some even wished the trip were longer. Many of the students, whether because of language barriers or work schedules, had never been to any of these places before and the excursion made them feel more confident to explore their home city.  Feeling more at ease in their new city, they said they wanted to bring their families back to visit these sites and that they would love to explore Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia in a similar manner.

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