Tuesday’s Upper School assembly, the last of the school year, provided Manhattan Country School’s seventh- and eighth-graders with the opportunity to tell classmates, parents and invited guests about this year’s activism project. Through the Build Bridges, Not Borders campaign, Fifth Floor students raised awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis and the Islamophobia they contend is contributing to the problem.
Dressed in green Build Bridges, Not Borders t-shirts, the students opened the assembly by educating those in the audience about the Arab Spring and its role in a civil war in Syria that has caused more than 320,000 deaths. In a country of 22.85 million people, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. The students brought the impact of the war home by sharing the experiences of Syrian children their age.
The seventh- and eighth-graders then recounted their trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress with lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The students had three requests for Congress: let in more refugees, provide more funding for refugee resettlement and speak out against Islamaphobia. While some were opposed to the students’ wishes, many citing security concerns, others agreed that more should be done to help refugees but feared they would lose the support of their constituents.
By extensively studying the process for seeking asylum, the Fifth Floor students learned that it would be highly unlikely for a terrorist to enter the United States this way. It is a multistep procedure that includes detailed questioning, a medical screening, cultural orientation and more. The entire process can take two to three years. To better illustrate how refugees are screened, the students and guests were divided into small groups and asked to participate in a simulation of the asylum process.
Both students and guests left the assembly with a better understanding of the Syrian refugee crisis and the knowledge that students at Manhattan Country School are putting forth an impressive effort to effect change.
To learn more about the Manhattan Country School’s Fifth Floor activism project, visit mcsactivism.blogspot.com.