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Immigration and Cultural Diversity in East Harlem

This unit explores the work and life of Leonard Covello and discusses themes related to the ethnic and immigrant history of the United Stated during the early twentieth century. Covello was an Italian-born American who dedicated his life to implement strategies for cultural integration. He became well-known for his innovative work as a public school teacher and administrator in the Italian community and, later, Puerto Rican communities of East Harlem, NY.  His personal experience as a member of an Italian-immigrant family, and his formation in education, made him develop strong commitments to the recognition of cultural pluralism. Through his work, and educational strategies, Covello emphasized the importance of immigrant children being conscious and proud of their cultures while learning to adapt to life in the United States. Thus, he promoted the implementation of intercultural education and community-centered schools that aimed to integrate Italian, Puerto Rican, and African-American children into the community. His teachings promoted cultural diversity, tolerance, and understanding among the students, their parents, and the community.

The unit aims to analyze the way immigration has shaped the United States as a diverse society using Covello as a case-study. Most of the material used in this unit plan comes from the Leonard Covello Papers (1907-1974), an extensive collection that comprises his teachings, publications, photographs, and personal records. This archival material reflects Covello’s interest in understanding and improving his neighborhood, and illustrates the diversity of the East Harlem community during the twentieth century.

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


20th century

Ethnic history


Big Ideas

Cause and Effect

Historical Context

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?

Why is time and space important to the study of history?


Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.

Historical comprehension involves evidence-based discussion and explanation, an analysis of sources including multiple points of view, and an ability to read critically to recognize fact from conjecture and evidence from assertion.

Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.


Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations for a specific time and place.

Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures, and place.

Background Material for Teacher

Covello, Leonard 1887-1982. Leonard Covello Papers.

Johanek, Michael C., and John L. Puckett. Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School: Education As If Citizenship Mattered. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

End of Unit Assessment

The students will evaluate patterns of continuity and change over time in the immigrant's history of the United States during the twentieth century. As a final project they will create a gallery of pictures from their own personal experiences that they believe reflects the identity of their community. They will also analyze, synthesize and integrate historical data from the lessons to create a short essay that reflects about the cultural diversity in the past and in the present.


Plans in this Unit

Community Memories

Leonard Covello and the History of East Harlem

Grade Level

Middle School

High School

Standards/Eligible Content



About the Author

Andreina Soto is an Education Intern at HSP, and a graduate student from Villanova University.


Lesson Plan

Leonard Covello and the History of East Harlem

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