"A School for Kids Like Me"

“A School for Kids Like Me” introduces students to the controversial 1830s issue of whether or not public funds should support what was essentially a parochial school in Lowell’s Irish neighborhood. The film provides students with valuable insight into how early Irish immigrants lived and the challenges they faced integrating into Lowell’s community, as well as some of the reasons why native Lowellians feared the influx and permanent settlement of the Irish.

School Group in Museum

Caveat for Groups Coming on a Field Trip: The three-minute film is used during the Yankees and Immigrants program (4th graders) as an introduction to the Town Meeting activity (Town Meeting Role Cards). We discourage teachers from showing the film to their classes before the visit, as the film is a “surprise” feature of the activity and leads right into the Town Meeting debate. We do encourage teachers to show the film as part of a post-visit activity.

Included below is some information that will help you prepare for using the film with your students.

  • Primary sources about this particular issue in Lowell’s history are scant. The film, and accompanying Town Meeting activity, were developed from the documents below, among others. TIHC staff filled in the blanks using additional research on the major issues of the era that the film/activity touch on – immigrants’ rights, the Common School movement, social reform, and religious discrimination.

    School Committee Reports:


  • Emma in the Museum

    For 21st-century elementary students, fairness supersedes difference and inequality, so the agitation over the question of funding an Irish-only school—and the discrimination faced by Irish immigrants—is hard to accept. The film provides students insight into how early Irish immigrants lived, and the hard time they had integrating into Lowell’s community. The ability to see both sides of a question is a very important skill for today’s students/tomorrow’s citizens. We hope that students will walk away not only with a better understanding of civics and citizens’ rights, but also with the sense that what is best for a whole community and that its future may require negotiation and compromise.

    Caveat: If you are coming on the Yankees and Immigrants field trip, we recommend that you do not show the film before the field trip, and instead use it as a post-visit activity to reexamine issues of immigration, segregation, and assimilation. If you are showing the film as part of a post-visit lesson, we suggestion that you review with students the various points of view about the issues they heard about in the film and during the Town Meeting.

    Discussion Questions:

    • What does the film indicate were some of the reasons the citizens of Lowell gave in support of or against the school?
    • How might hearing the other townspeople’s opinions during town meeting activity (town meeting role cards) have influenced the vote you took?
    • What do you think about the fact that Irish parents wanted a separate school for their children and that the town of Lowell responded by funding a school just for Irish students?
    • What parallels can you find between the issue and points of view discussed in the film and of issues or points of view from other episodes in United States’ history?

    You may also want to explore the following themes with your students:

    • Preserving culture
    • Assimilation/Americanization
    • Contributions of immigrants to American culture

    The film, and further exploration activities, align with the following National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies Frameworks:

    • Culture: How people from different cultures develop different values and ways of interpreting experience
    • Time, Continuity, and Change: That historical events occurred in times that differed from our own, but often have lasting consequences for the present and future
    • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions: That individuals, groups and institutions share common elements, but also have unique characteristics
    • Power, Authority, and Governance: The ways in which governments meet the needs and wants of citizens
    • Civic Ideals and Practices: Key practices in a democratic society include civic participation based on studying community issues, planning, decision-making, voting, and cooperating to promote civic ideas
  • Teachers of U.S. History (middle or high school) will find this film useful and relevant to their history/social studies curriculum. The topics this film addresses resonate in today’s questions about how communities address citizenship and the rights of native-born and immigrant residents. The film illustrates, through dramatic reenactment and using language from primary sources, issues Lowell’s Irish and Yankee residents faced in the 1830s, and how Lowellians debated whether to establish equity in public education as their community became more culturally diverse. After viewing the film, students can make the connection to today’s immigration trends and debates.

    Discussion Questions:

    • This film depicts views about education, culture, work, and political power that were increasingly of interest in the nineteenth century as the young American nation grew. How might any of the reform movements of this same period have played a role in the thinking of Lowell’s residents as they took stands on the question of a publicly funded school for Irish Catholic youth?
    • What connections can you make between early 19th century reform movements and the rapid modernization of society caused by industrialization?
    • What parallels can you draw between the treatment of Irish immigrants in the United States during the early 19th century, and the way some regard Middle Easterners and Africans seeking refuge in Europe today?
    • How has the social, political, and legal understanding of the “separation of church and state” concept evolved over time in the United States?
    • As populations shift and change, what responsibilities do individuals and groups have to the community?

    You may also want to explore the following themes with your students:

    • Civic ideals and practices in a constitutional democracy
    • Social, political and religious change in the new republic era
    • How anti-immigrant sentiments/laws in the United States have changed over time

    The film, and further exploration activities, align with the following National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies Frameworks:

    • Culture: That behaviors, values, and beliefs of different cultures can lead to cooperation or pose barriers to cross-cultural understanding
    • Time, Continuity, and Change: The contributions of philosophies, ideologies, individuals, institutions, and key events and turning points in shaping history
    • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions: The influence of individuals, groups, and institutions on people and events in historical and contemporary settings
    • Power, Authority, and Governance: Fundamental values of constitutional democracy (e.g., the common good, liberty, justice, equality, and individual dignity
    • Civic Ideals and Practices: That seeking multiple perspectives is required in order to effectively grasp the complexity of issues involving civic ideals and practices