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7th Graders Study the Iranian Revolution

7th Graders Study the Iranian Revolution
Sophie Shulman

A hallmark of our faculty is how they seek opportunities to connect curriculum to the real world. So when 7th grade English teacher Leila Sinclaire had a conversation with two Mark Day parents whose lived experiences mirrored the novel students were reading, Leila jumped at the chance to invite them to campus.

In English, 7th graders are currently reading the graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, a coming-of-age story about the Iranian Revolution in 1979. “It’s an advanced book with some confusing government terminology, so I want to stay right there with them,” says Leila. Parents Leyla Dendi and Mani Sheik lived in Iran and experienced the Iranian Revolution firshand. “Because there were so many connections between the story in Persepolis and Leyla and Mani’s firsthand experiences, it was almost like students were able to interview the author herself,” says Leila. “Not to mention these two speakers are part of our community and have kids in the seventh grade class.”

To prepare for their visit, Leila asked students to use their experience with Persepolis and their own curiosity to form questions. Their thoughtful questions included: How was it different for you to grow up there than it is for your kids here? What did you do when there was a bombing? Where did you hide? Did you get in trouble for wearing a hijab incorrectly? Leila also reminded students that the government presented in Persepolis is still in power today. Students applied their SEL tools to understand the sensitivity required of learning from someone who has been through a difficult experience. 

Both Leyla and Mani were children during the time of the Iranian Revolution. Under the new regime, they recalled, their community transformed from a vibrant, celebratory, culturally rich place to one of control, restriction, chaos, and war. They also spoke of their move to the United States, where they, at times, felt isolated and judged. Leyla and Mani expressed pride in their Middle Eastern heritage and cherish the happy memories, food, and dancing.

Teachers continually seek ways to deepen learning through projects and real-world experiences such as this one. We also work across disciplines. As part of their study of world history, 7th graders explore religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; 7th graders are currently studying the rise of Islam in history, creating multiple points of engagement to understand a complex and nuanced concept and its manifestations through time.  

Welcoming members of our community into the classroom to expand students’ understanding of history and culture is a practice across K-8, and we are always looking for more opportunities to do so. It’s one thing to read about a moment in time; it’s another to talk to someone who directly experienced it. We are grateful to Leyla and Mani for sharing their personal stories with 7th graders—we know their visit had an indelible impact on their growth as young learners and as members of a diverse and complex world.

To learn more about the curriculum at Mark Day School, click here.