Community Memories

Community Memories

During his time as teacher and director of public schools in East Harlem, Leonard Covello encouraged a closer relation between the community and the schools. His teachings, publications, and visual records capture the cultural diversity taking place in New York by the mid-twentieth century, and are a valuable record we can use to explore the ethnic and immigrant history of the United States.

Using Covello’s collection as inspiration, this lesson seeks to encourage students to learn about their own communities and think in broader terms about cultural diversity and immigration. The first part focuses in the life of Leonard Covello and the development of East Harlem.  Use Covello’s biography, written by Shawm Weldom, as well as various other sources to discuss the history of East Harlem. Another key article is “Finding Faces in the Leonard Covello Collection,” by Samantha Spott. This piece will teach them, from a personal experience, the process of preservation and the value of photographs to access the past. With this practice, they will learn about the cultural diversity of their locality, and the value of historical conservation. The use of visual and written sources highlights the importance of material culture to preserve and study the past, and will provide students the opportunity to select and analyze different types of information.

As additional background on local history, you can have students read the excerpts on Philadelphia immigration history, taken from The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia attached to the lesson. These articles provide general information on the impact of immigrant groups to  Philadelphia’s development, from 1870 until the present.


Para ver una explicación de la Unidad en español, click Aquí.


Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


The students will be able to:

  • Use and contrast different types of sources by using scholarly texts and photographs.
  • Improve their research skill by looking and discerning information about their communities.
  • Reflect upon the immigration and ethnic history of the U.S. by studying concrete examples.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1st part

  1. Prior to the class, the students should read Covello’s biography and Samatha Spott’s article. Tell them to take notes about the readings and identify the main ideas, important dates/events, etc.
  2. To introduce the class, you will discuss Covello’s life, as an immigrant-born American who devoted his life to promote cultural diversity and understanding in East Harlem. Use the presentation “Community Memories” to talk about Covello’s biography and the work he developed with the students of the Benjamin Franklin High School. As you move through the presentation, ask the students: What did you find interesting about Covello’s life? Did you identity with the immigrant-born children? Why was it important that the students of Benjamin Franklin H.S. made surveys of the neighborhood? Why did Covello keep these pictures of East Harlem? The questions should help emphasize the idea of cultural diversity and community cooperation.
  3. Next, ask the students to form groups (2 or 3 persons) to discuss Spott’s article. Hand them the answer worksheet to write down their ideas. Once they finish, ask them their reflections and write them on the board.

2nd part

  1. For the next class, ask the students to bring at least one picture of their family, of people from their community, or the neighborhood itself (streets, buildings, street art, public event, etc.). The picture can be old or recent. Hand the students a file card they should fill prior to the class with basic information about the photograph(s) they chose for the collection.
  2. At the beginning of the class, collect the photographs with the file card; put the images in a visible place in the classroom. Ask the students to explain their selections of photo(s). To promote the discussion, you can use the following questions:
  • Who took the picture? When and where? Does the picture have a sentimental value for you/your family? What elements does the picture capture (People, streets, buildings, etc.)?
  • Describe your community, how long have you lived there? How is daily life in the neighborhood?
  • How does the image(s) you chose represent your community?
  • Are the photographs of the collection similar or different? Why? They can group the images based on the themes/categories they find in common.


Material culture: historic and everyday objects that reflect the past, beliefs and culture of a person or social group.

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