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Coming to America: Empowering Students to CREATE Their Stories

October 8, 2019 / by Manuel Hernandez

In Kissimmee, Florida, a team of students, who are English Language Learners (ELLs) are writing their coming to America stories. Even students who were born and raised in America have stories of struggles, hardships and triumphs that can serve as inspiration for others. As students embark on the journey of writing and publishing their stories in a book, other new, incoming students can see themselves in the stories and can learn to write their own coming to America stories

What is the Coming to America (CTA) program?

CTA is a unit from the English Language Arts (ELA) III (juniors in high school) in the Common Core curriculum for public high schools in Florida. Every academic school year, ELA III begins with the story of one of the first groups of European settlers (Pilgrims) who made the journey to America in the early 1600's. Because I am an ELA (Sheltered) teacher, I integrate the stories of the recently arrived teens and elicit personal responses to William Bradford's classic book Of Plymouth Plantation. Their responses build bridges for the understanding and literary appreciation of the historical account of the Pilgrims and makes connections to the core standards. At the same time, I use the students’ responses as a hook to promote the Coming to America Club. 

The following video sums-up the Coming to America program that supports making student writing engaging, genuine, and unique.

History of CTA

During the first year (2016-2017) five students participated in the publication of the book (collection of memoirs based on their relocation journey). We really did not have an official club. Five students responded to the challenge, and the 1st edition was born.  

The following year (2017-2018), I used the published book of the five stories to recruit nine more students and created an official school club. A year later, the 2nd edition came to life. 

In March of 2019, we published our 3rd book in the series. We published the 3rd edition during the presentation of our club members as Spotlight Speakers at the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE) in Orlando. The 3rd edition includes 25 stories of the coming to America journey of ESOL students in Florida.

5 Tips on How to Start Your Own Coming to America Club

  1. Identify a document and/or reading passage of great historical significance in your curriculum unit. Example, Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford.
  2. Incorporate the Read and Respond theory as a jumpstart strategy for class discussion. 
  3. Explain to students the creation of a school club that will allow them to verbally express, write and eventually publish their stories in a book. Request parents’ permission.
  4. Request the requirements for a school club in your story and submit official school bylaws to your school administrator.
  5. Meet with your students at least once a week after school and teach them the writing process with emphasis on writing a narrative. Present the project to a local printer or  publisher.
Manuel Hernandez

Written by Manuel Hernandez

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. At the age of 11, his parents moved back to their homeland, Puerto Rico. This experience started a revolving door phenomenon that encouraged him to move back to New York at 15, and had him coming and going to New York City from P.R. during his adolescence and young adulthood. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus in 1986 and finished a Master’s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx, New York in 1994. Hernandez taught in the public schools in New York and Puerto Rico. He taught English in his alma mater, and taught adjunct at the University of Phoenix in Puerto Rico as well. In 2014, he relocated with his family to the Sunshine State and now teaches English Language Arts in Osceola County. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (English and Spanish) (Divine Purpose Publishing, 2017). He founded and created an educational program called Coming to America (CTA). The program which started as a school club has impacted students in Florida and other states. CTA has published 3 books in a series. He is the father of two boys, one, a young adult, Jose Manuel (Joey) and the young Josue Esteban. He has been married for more than 32 years to Maria Ortiz Rodriguez. He currently serves as a team member in the set-up ministry and as one of the leaders in the Men’s Ministry at New Birth Place of Hope in Kissimmee, Florida under the leadership of Pastor Gabby Mejia. To learn more contact him -

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