Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Through Immigrants' Eyes

Making a Life: Creating a Community

Children parading in front of church waving flags.

Children from St. Casimir's School parade down the street in honor of General Pulaski Day, 1929. General Pulaski was a Polish hero.

Creating Community

New immigrants adjusting to their new American communities sought refuge within communities of their own. Churches, synagogues, and social clubs where they could speak their own language and practice their own traditions bound them together as "ethnic groups" for the first time.

The children of immigrants often felt caught between these two worlds: Their American communities and the "Old Country" that they had never seen.

Eventually, as generations passed, the ethnic communities became absorbed into the larger community. But sharped-eyed historian-detectives can learn how to decipher clues of their past importance on the streets of Johnstown.

We suggest reading through the Teachers' Guide first, then use the links under Student Resources for this Thread as quick access to the learning materials for this theme.  Referenced PA Standards are available.

Teachers's Guide for "Making a Life"

Disciplines: Social studies (sociology, psychology, geography, history), the arts (architecture, music, dance)

Students will expand their notions of what the words "community," "belonging," and "neighborhood" mean and why they were critical to how well immigrants adusted to life in their new home. They begin by diagramming the communities they belong to, then explore the "Life Cycle of an Ethnic Community" in preparation for their visit to the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center and Cambria City, the ethnic neighborhood that surrounds it.

The Museum. At the museum will anticipate the culture shocks immigrants faced when leaving established communities "back home' and identify institutions and other relationships they created in America to restore their sense of belonging.

Cambria City Walking Tour. If time at all permits, we strongly suggest that you spend part of your visit exploring the neighborhood around the JHDC. We've provided a map showing a suggested tour route, a photo preview of what you will see, arranged in order, and two scavenger hunt type activities for students. Mix and match activities and shorten the route, if need be, but do consider venturing into this outdoor laboratory for learning about "community": no amount of words or pictures beats walking in the real thing!

Students will imagine what it was like for kids their age in an immigrant family. Immigrant children often felt caught between two cultures. They must resolve dilemmas a typical immigrant child might face while settling in America and feeling "Stuck Between Two Worlds."Then they will investigate how that smallest unit of community, the family, passes on its values through traditions by conducting Family Folklife Interview. Directions for making traditional Ukranian "psanky" eggs wrap up the thread.

Resources for "Making a Life"

For convenience, all of these resources are listed on the appropriate Teachers' Guide page and on a separate Student Resources page arranged in order under the headings "Before your Visit," "During your Visit," and "After your Visit." The Student Resources page does not contain links to teachers' keys, so you can freely allow students direct access to it.

Readings and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources


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