5th GRADE CIVIL RIGHTS UNIT

SOCIAL STUDIES: Students studied the American Revolution, Civil Rights Movement, Children's Movement, and Apartheid.

ENGLISH: Students read the novel Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

MEDIA AND INFORMATION LITERACY: In addition to students conducting research using online databases, primary courses, and citations, they also created presentations using Google Slides to share what they learned.

SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LITERACY (SEL): Learning about historical events through the eyes of children helped them develop deep empathy for their experiences. They also gained a greater understanding of resilience and the power of child activism.

CROSS-CULTURAL LITERACY: The visit from our partner school in South Africa, Kliptown Youth Program (KYP), provided a cross-cultural connection, particularly between the Children's March and the Soweto uprising.

CRITICAL THINKING: Students were encouraged to challenge the traditional narrative surrounding the American Revolution and understand on a deeper level the definition and meaning of freedom.

COLLABORATION: Students worked in teams to research, present, and engage in discussions about these historical events. There was also collaboration on the teacher level; this project was planned and supported by 5th grade teachers Deb Pannell and Lacy Zehner, Director of the Learning Commons ReAnna Gailes, and Director of Cross-Cultural Partnerships and Community Engagement Fernanda Pernambuco.

COMMUNITY MINDSET: Through this unit, students gained a greater understanding of how a group of people--particularly youth--can come together to enact change.

SELF-UNDERSTANDING: Following this unit, students are better able to understand themselves in the context of American history and the power they hold to make a difference.

Fifth grade students studied the American Revolution from the eyes of children their age. They began by reading the novel Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, which tells the story of a young girl who spied on her slave owners in an effort to achieve freedom. “We wanted students to understand that the narrative we’ve been telling for decades--that the United States is a nation of freedom--is not completely accurate,” says Deb Pannell, 5th grade teacher. Through the novel, students examined the idea of freedom--particularly who it was for and who it was not.

Students then studied the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, with particular focus on the Children’s March in 1963. Fortunately, we had a delegation from our partner school in South Africa, Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) on campus during this unit. It was a great opportunity to make a connection between the Children’s March and the Soweto uprising during apartheid in South Africa. During their time with ReAnna Gailes, Director of the Learning Commons, students examined images from both movements, identified comparisons between the two, conducted research using primary sources and databases on significant historical events and people like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Jim Crow, and presented their findings in front of peers using Google Slides.

Following their research, students interviewed a member of the KYP delegation, who had been a child during the Soweto uprising, about his experience. “It brought history to life and helped them understand that though they may look different across countries, problems like slavery and oppression are global problems,” explains ReAnna. 

Studying these movements also sparked a sense of agency within students. “In both the Children’s March and the Soweto uprising, children were at the helm of creating change,” says Deb. “Exposing our students to these two pivotal moments of child activism and the change they engendered really helped them grasp how powerful children be.” The lesson prompted many students to participate in the Women’s March that weekend.

Another important aspect of the unit was bridging the historical racism during the American Revolution and racism in today’s culture. “It’s still happening,” says ReAnna Gailes, Director of the Learning Commons. “It’s important for students to make the connection, and understand that just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean it isn’t happening today.”