Leonard Covello and the History of East Harlem

Home Education Unit Plans Immigration and Cultural Diversity in East Harlem Leonard Covello and the History of East Harlem

Leonard Covello and the History of East Harlem

By exploring Leonard Covello’s work, the lesson aims to encourage broader discussions about the current situation of immigrant communities in the United States. The lesson uses two readings. The first is an excerpt from A High School and Its Immigrant Community: A Challenge and an Opportunity, by Leonard Covello. The article has a detailed study of the social and economic conditions of East Harlem by the early-twentieth century, emphasizing the impact of immigrant groups in East Harlem, NY. The author highlights the role of education, and the public schools, to tackle the common problems that affect immigrant adults, and immigrant-born children. The article also introduces Covello’s community-centered school framework. The second reading is “Who is coming to America” by Sam Robert. This article provides a historical overview about the waves of immigration to the United States since the early-twentieth century. Roberts compares and analyses the past century with the current situation of new settlers, and explains the causes of certain changes in each period, such as the increase of Asian and Latin American immigrants in the past decades. Roberts also reflects about the social and cultural impact of a new life in the United States among foreigners and their children. Additionally, the article contains a series of graphics that shows the variations (country of origin, distribution of the population by states, income earned) between the years 1900 and 2007. 

Both authors analyze the ethnic history of the country in different periods and will provide the students with an overview about the immigration situation in the country since the past century, its challenges and outcomes. The comparative analysis of these readings will help the students to write a short essay to reflect about the immigrant communities over time and space.

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Essential Questions

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


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze multiple sources on a topic by comparing different points of view among the authors.
  • Apply critical assessment of a primary source to construct ideas and statements.
  • Understand the importance of the past to reflect upon the present by learning on immigration and ethnic history.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Prior to the class, ask the students to read and write down key ideas from the  Covello excerpt, Roberts’ article, and the graphics of “Who’s coming to America?”. Covello provides a detailed landscape of the immigration history in East Harlem highlighting the majority of Italian and later, Puerto Rican population. Roberts provides a historical context that covers most of the past century, and talks in further detail about the immigration waves in recent periods. Ask the students to identify:
    • Similarities and differences between 1900 and 2007 (e.g. nationalities and percentages of the immigrant groups, countries of origin, problems in their countries).
    • Difficulties faced by the immigrants and the immigrant-born children in the United States in the twentieth, and the twentieth first centuries: social shame, discrimination, economic instability, criminality, and difficulty  adapting to the new environment.
    •  Point of view of the author (positive or negative) toward the immigrant groups.
  2. During the class, organize the students in groups (2 or 3 persons), and give them a copy of the Venn diagram. They should discuss and write down the differences and similarities (at least three) between the two periods of immigration examined by the authors.
  3. Once they finish discussing their ideas, draw a Venn diagram on the board and fill the blanks with the students’ answers.
  4. Wrap up the discussion by asking about the similarities. Some of the question can be: Why do you think some of the problems (discrimination, difficulty to adapt) are still common in the country? Why is it important to create respect and understanding among the immigrant and non-immigrant groups? These questions can bring into discussion terms such as cultural diversity, tolerance, racism, and ethnicity.
  5. As final assignment, ask the students to write a short essay (1-2 pages) analyzing the following statement:

The immigrant and his children must be made to feel that they "belong" to America. They must be made to realize that America does not regard them as inferiors and that all that is not American is not to be scorned. They must be encouraged to feel that "a knowledge of and a pride in" their foreign cultural heritage is natural and just—something desirable for themselves, for the America of today, and the America of tomorrow. –Leonard Covello, p. 341


The readings and class discussion should help them to create an insightful analysis of the statement. Their responses should address:

  • What does Covello mean with this statement?
  • What are the challenges faced by immigrants when they move to a new country? What are the benefits?
  • What does the author mean when he insists on the pride for the cultural heritage?


Immigration: movement of people from their place of origin to another country to which they are not native, in order to settle or reside there.

Intercultural Education: teaching strategies that promote understanding of different people and cultures, by accepting and respecting diversity as a normal condition in all areas of live.

Cultural diversity: coexistence of a variety of ethnic groups within a society. In education, cultural diversity addresses the idea that people from all different groups and ways of life have made contributions to U.S. history.

Community centered school: strategy developed by Leonard Covello, in which the schools are seen as cooperating agencies in the neighborhoods. For Covello, school should center their attention in educational problems that affect the community. In the case of East Harlem, these problems derived from the lack of strategies to recognize foreign-born people as an integral part of U.S. societies.