At a recent Share assembly, third graders presented Biographies of Influential Black Americans, a book end to our month-long celebration of Black History Month. Throughout February, Lower School classes have concentrated on the theme of amplifying black voices stamped out by racism and on celebrating their contributions and influence on American culture and history. While Black History Month comes to a close, our work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives does not. Through our Anti-Bias Building Blocks curriculum, as well as our globally focused social studies curriculum, our studies continue and are naturally integrated into Brimmer’s existing curriculum, signature programs, and exhibitions of learning.
During Black History Month, Lower School students engaged in meaningful lessons and conversations that were considerate of the age and stage of students’ development, as well as the existing curriculum for a particular grade. For example, in fourth grade, students learned about the Little Rock Nine, Mahatma Gandhi and his influence on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and they reflected on the impact of Civil Rights figures, such as Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and Fred Karematsu. After listening to the poetry of Langston Hughes, Jacqueline Woodson, and Amanda Gorman, fourth graders created acrostic poems titled We Are One, and they shared their work during a poetry recital of their own. Connecting their Black History Month studies to the local community, fourth graders also explored the contributions of Melnea Cass, Ayanna Presley, Mel King, Titlo Jackson, Reggie Lewis, and women of color in Boston’s City Council.
Similarly, during Black History Month, first graders continued to explore their year-long theme What is Courage? through class discussions, videos, picture books, and students’ written and illustrated responses. Joining Faith Ringgold on a dreamy and imaginative reading of her award-winning children’s classic Tar Beach, students also reflected on the people who inspire them, including young Ruby Bridges. In their written reflections, they deepened their understanding of courage and considered the obstacles that Ruby, a student of their age, faced as she attempted to attend school. One student shared, “Ruby was courageous because she went where no one looked like her,” and another hopefully reflected, “Ruby Bridges helped change the rules.”
I had the pleasure of watching Ms. Wolf Heyman lead the first graders in a class on the Harlem Renaissance. Effortlessly and magically, she captivated Ms. Higbie’s students and led them on a journey to Harlem New York during the early 1900’s. Infusing history, drama, art, poetry, and music, Ms. Wolf invited students to use their magic feet, while staying close to their desks (COVID rules), to act out a poem written by her former middle school students. She began, “Imagine a neighborhood, where a whole bunch of artists live close to one another to create visual arts like you do with Mrs. Clamage, but there was also performance art like plays, music and dance.” After students finished acting out each line of the poem which consisted of actors, actresses, jazz musicians, dancers, poets, artists, and directors, Ms. Wolf introduced a few important black Americans from this time, including Romare Bearden, Billie Holiday, Bill Robinson, and Duke Ellington whom students also studied with Ms. Scheibe.
Throughout February, Ms. Scheibe worked to connect musical studies to the academic curriculum but also to Black History Month. In third grade, she shared the picture book We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song which traces the history of this important protest song from its origins in American slavery to the 21st century and around the globe. She asked students to listen to and analyze three different versions of the song and to brainstorm ideas for creating verses that reflected their own hopes, wishes, and dreams for a better world. Third graders’ verses focused on becoming family, having justice, being together, picking up trash, getting vaccinated, and ending COVID…right now!
While Ms. Horbatuck’s and Mrs. O’Neill’s classes led today’s Share assembly with their Biographies of Influential Black Americans, they have also offered inspiration throughout the Lower School with their random acts of kindness and their colorful mural of hands reminding all of us what we can do with our own two hands. Inspired by the lyrics to Ben Harper’s With My Own Two Hands, our third graders hoped to use their own two hands to help others, to make peace, to support each other, to forgive, to create things, to care, to protest, to protect themselves, and much more. I am grateful for all of our young, aspiring leaders and for their incredible teachers.