An Inquiry into Social Justice, Equality & Black History

An Inquiry into Social Justice, Equality & Black History

At AGC, we recognize Black History Month and we also recognize that Black history is central to all of American history and should be part of any robust teaching curriculum year-round, not just in a month’s time. We are mindful to incorporate lessons and activities that spotlight important figures in Black history, as well as the milestone events in the trajectory of Black life in America, throughout the year. We believe it is critical to honor the resilience, creativity, and vitality of Black people that is too often forced to be expressed in the face of injustice, inequity and violence, past and present.

In both our K-5 Primary Years Program (PYP) and 6-8 Middle Years Program (MYP), we uphold the importance of Black history in year-round curriculum for all students. Our PYP Coordinator, Meredith Polley McNamara and MYP Coordinator, Massiel Zaragoza share insight into how Black history is woven into the AGC curriculum below. 

A PYP Perspective

As part of the IB program, we strive to make our units of inquiry as transdisciplinary as possible. This means that we want to integrate the big ideas about our unit throughout as many parts of our day and content areas as possible across subjects.  When students are studying genetics and heredity for example, they learn about acquired and inherited traits in a science lesson and then connect this vocabulary word of “traits” to thinking about character traits in their reading and writing workshops.  This helps students build a deeper understanding of a topic and make connections across subject matter. Even our art and wellness teachers work to expand upon the learning of a unit of inquiry.

In this way, when observances such as Black History Month roll around, we don’t want to just stop on a single day for a stand-alone lesson on an important person from history.  We work to integrate these studies into what students are currently exploring so they can more authentically connect to the person or event. Our fifth graders launched an inquiry into “Our Place in Space” this January, focusing on Next Generation Science Standards about Earth’s position in the universe and the conditions that make life possible there. Because the unit would extend into February and March, the teachers decided to include a chapter book read aloud from the Young Reader’s version of Hidden Figures as part of the study and this spurred a lot of student questions about the role of women and diversity in STEM fields. Teachers arranged an interview with a female PhD student working for the European Space Agency and a former 5th grade student who had done a research project on diversity in the space program. During guided reading sessions, students chose from a few biographies of female astronauts or people of color working in the space program as part of their study of nonfiction text.  

Our second grade students have been working on a civics and economics unit that is an inquiry into where and how people can get what they need in a community.  While this could be a simple study into community helpers, the AGC team chose to place this unit in the winter months so they could include the essential question of what we can do as citizens if our needs are not being met. While students are learning about opinion writing and how best to make their voices heard, they have also been immersed in reading and listening to stories of activists throughout history. Inspired by the examples of Kamala Harris, Jackie Robinson, Cesar Chavez, Greta Thunberg, and Billie Jean King, students are preparing for the moment when they get to think about how to work for change in their communities.  

While we want to make these strong connections to our unit in accordance to national celebrations, we also work hard to make sure students are exposed to diverse characters, literature and historical figures throughout the entire year.  When our fourth graders study migration and exploration, students inquire into topics of forced migration, conquest and multiple points of view of historical events like Columbus’ “discovery” of America. They chose their research topics from a long list that includes female explorers, figures from various nationalities and races as well as time periods. Our kindergarteners and fifth graders study artistic expression and have worked to diversify the artists that they highlight throughout their inquiries.  

Written by: Meredith Polley McNamara

An MYP Perspective

At AGC, we seek to foster teaching and learning that encourages the respect of each other’s differences, recognizes biases, and provides our students with opportunities to become agents of social change. For these reasons, MYP teachers are intentional about integrating the voices and experiences of people of color in their curricula. The teachers in MYP engage in ongoing reflection and evaluation of their own practices in order to ensure that their pedagogy addresses race and ethnicity and promotes students’ understanding of the active role they must play in identifying and dismantling inequitable societal structures. 

In MYP’s Language & Literature (L&L) class, for example, 6th, 7th and 8th graders have engaged in continuous inquiry about how perspectives on inequality and inclusion change, depending on the context. After reading and analyzing the book Watsons go to Birmingham during their first unit of inquiry this school year titled, “Developing Resilience,” the sixth graders wrote narrative essays from the point of view of different characters from the book in order to demonstrate how the perception of inequality varied from character to character. The seventh grade L&L class completed a poetry unit in January, in which students had the opportunity to write their own free verse poems, inspired by images related to social justice. Students studied and experimented with various poem formats as they unpacked the role creativity and self-expression play in our perspective of individual freedom and hope. Transdisciplinary connections were made across the Individuals & Societies course, as students gained knowledge on various Civil Rights events of the 1950s and 1960s. Students identified connections among those historical events and the emergence of political movements that have a strong presence in our society today.

This is a student poem from 7th grade’s L&L poetry unit, written by Layla Lopez.

We are continuing to enhance our middle school IB program to strengthen connections across course subjects and to provide students with a robust curriculum that offers consistent exposure to literary texts, historical content and modern day topics that transcend cultural boundaries. With the adoption of the AGC Anti-Racist Policy, the middle school instructional team has been actively working towards engagement of an anti-racism philosophy in their classrooms. Our hope is to expand the reach of this philosophy to all subject areas and on a more regular basis so that Black History and Black Voices are authentically represented in every day learning. 

Written by: Massiel Zaragoza

These images were inspiration for 7th grade’s L&L poetry unit.

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