Reflections on learning from an unplanned guest: Lady Liberty Part 2

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

(Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series. Read first blog here.)

I can still sing the song that I learned in elementary school that set this sonnet to music. Emma Lazarus wrote these words and contributed the poem as part of a fundraiser for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Inscribed on a plaque, you can find them on the inside wall of the pedestal.

As a child, the Statue of Liberty captivated me. After all, this was the statue that welcomed my grandfather when he was just a preschooler on a boat, coming to a new country from Scotland. I suspect that you might have a similar story in your family. Lady Liberty has long been a symbol of America. And for those of us who live in New York/Jersey City region, she’s a part of our landscape.

So it seems natural that the students of the Kindergarten Earth class would choose the Statue of Liberty to build in blocks. That they would find her so engaging that their learning process extended into much, much more: deep learning about the statue and her meaning, a visit to the statue, and a beautiful paper mache project.  (Read more about the project here.)

When I interviewed Ms. Silva and her students about the project, I was enthralled by the hands-on process of learning. How the children’s curiosity and ability to ask questions instilled a desire to learn more. To do more. It’s breathtaking, what can happen when a teacher follows the lead of the students. The statue and blocks structure-stunning! The knowledge of the students– “impressive” doesn’t quite capture it.

statue of liberty on pedestal mod

But there’s something more about this project that perhaps didn’t come through in my description of it in the previous blog. The meaning of the statue herself. Her welcome of the “homeless, tempest-tost.” During the project, it was always there, an undercurrent of freedom.  It came through loud and clear in my discussion with the children.  They were quick to tell me about the broken chains at the feet of the statue. “It stands for freedom,” they said.

And the seven points on the crown, they offered, symbolize the seven continents and the seven seas. At one point, the group in front of me broken into song about freedom. I couldn’t quite tell if it was a song they knew or one that they were making up on the spot. Either way, it touched me.

I’m not the only one who was touched by the project. We sent out a few questions to parents to ask their perspective on the project.  Here’s what we heard:

I grew up in the middle of the country and the Statue of Liberty was kind of mythological for us.  But it has been in the backdrop of life for our children; it pops up in the background unexpectedly from time-to-time as we travel about the city.  “There she is!” our children often call out, or, “Guess what I see?”  

There is something about the strength and boldness of Lady Liberty’s pose that has been especially resonate for Joanna.  For several years now, whenever she notices the statue, she strikes the pose… arm confidently raising an imaginary torch and her other hand firmly planted on her hip.  There is something about the attitude of the statue that she enjoys embodying.  

I’m so pleased by her interest in Lady Liberty.  For now, I think she sees a strength and grit to emulate and that’s so worthy given how full our stories of history are of men.  

But I’m also pleased that the spirit of welcome, of desiring diversity and compassion, must be calling to her too.  Going to visit the statue with her class I know helped her to begin to perceive these values and we hope to visit the statue and Ellis Island this summer as a family to explore more about what it is like for people to journey to our country seeking a better life.  I think we will find her great-grandmother’s name at Ellis Island.

—Emily Sytsma


Annabelle discussed this project at length. Everything from learning about the important people behind her creation, who was influential in helping to have her constructed here in the United States, to Emma Lazarus’s poem inscribed on the tablet. She spent quite a good deal of time drawing pictures of Lady Liberty which means for Annabelle, the project was very important and top-of-mind for her.

The fact that this project was born from the children’s collaborating of ideas and how their passion behind learning more about her history grew as they worked together.  To see the excitement in their eyes and to hear the passion in their voices was contagious.  When we went to visit the classroom that evening, Annabelle was bubbling over with energy as she showed us all they had been working on.

My grandfather (Papa) was an immigrant who fought long and hard to make his way into the United States of America.  To have Annabelle experience a small piece of what my Papa worked so for, to be apart of, really hit home with me.  Especially given what our country is going through right now, it was great to share with her what the Statue of Liberty stands for; in our family, for this country and around the world.  

To be able to join them on their field trip was an added bonus, to watch as she and her classmates took in the wonder and beauty of her majesty was incredibly moving. When I took the group shot of the kids at the end of the day, I was actually brought to tears.  Such a special unit for the students, I’m grateful they were able to go through it with their teachers!

—Kristin Zangrilli

Fiona was so excited and motivated to learn and create the Statue of Liberty. She was so energized! I was really pleased to read in her progress report how much input she had. Fiona speaks her mind but can be reserved when in groups with more spirited personalities. There was something about this project that got her going.

Fiona told me many facts about the Statue of Liberty. I was quite impressed. She also talked a lot about building the statue out of blocks. She was excited to tell me all she knew about it! I was impressed by how much detail she knew. There were many facts that I didn’t even know or had forgotten about. It was a true study: who made it, how it was made, and what it represents. It was important to me that Fiona actively participated. It was also important that the history of the statue was told.

—Monica Hanratty

One thing that we’re always mindful of here at Mustard Seed School is that the children have so much to teach us. The Statue of Liberty project is a great example of this. Thanks to the children, Ms. Silva, and the parents for their willingness to share their experiences with me.

And if you’re looking for something to do with your family, may we suggest that you visit the Statue of Liberty?


Abby Liu

ABBY LIU, Associate Director of Communications

Ms. Liu is a writer for the development office and manages the school’s digital and print media. She’s the parent of a current MSS student and a recent alum.