To so many Lower Schoolers, story time is one of the best parts of the day. Reading or listening to stories sparks children's imagination and creativity, opens their minds to new perspectives, and enriches their world view.
This Black History Month, our Lower School is uplifting black stories among our youngest learners through a special project that connects teachers to children's books by black authors.
On a bulletin board near the Lower School faculty lounge, QR codes link teachers to videos of books that are featured on the Netflix series Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices. Each story featured on Bookmarks explores the black experience and is read by celebrities ranging from recording artist Common to Black-ish star Marsai Martin.
Homeroom teachers are encouraged to take any available time to watch the videos with their classes. Then, students are prompted to answer inclusive discussion questions using the Padlet app.
"The bulletin board idea came to me as a way to encourage the students to be interactive across grade levels while also stimulating authentic conversation in the classroom," says Lower School Diversity Coordinator Lindsay McAvoy, who created the bulletin board and set up the Padlet pages for student discussion. "The students can see other posts on the Padlet as well as comment back to what has already been said."
For Lupita Nyong'o's critically-acclaimed book Sulwe, students are asked questions like, "How does this book celebrate pride in oneself? How do you celebrate pride in yourself?" For New York Times' bestseller The Day You Begin, students are asked, "How can you show respect for history, characteristics and perspectives that are different from your own?"
Discussions like these help students respect each other's differences, says McAvoy.
"It is important for our youngest learners to read books and learn about stories from diverse backgrounds, because in doing so, the students are able to begin building an inclusive vocabulary that they will carry with them as they grow. The building blocks of learning how to talk about gender, race, ability, etc. will start to pave the way for our EA students to become more empathic and inclusive both at EA and in their communities."
In addition to listening to and discussing these stories, Lower Schoolers are honoring the stories of Black History Month's heroes in many ways. The Visual Arts Department and Turner Library are collaborating with 5th graders to help create Black History Month biographies across a variety of platforms. Second graders are creating scrapbooks of Black History figures, while all 4th graders are creating Google Slides presentations to present to their classmates.
"Through this project, we hope to both empower and educate the students in our classrooms," shares the 4th grade team. "We hope students grow a deeper appreciation for the contributions these heroes have made to our society."
"Our goal for students is to gain an understanding of the struggles African American people endured while trying to obtain equality in our country," adds Ryan Learn from the 2nd grade team. "We use a multitude of platforms to research, study, and create projects that allow our students to showcase their creativity and understanding of technology. We also relate our unit to the Stripes, and how these courageous people lived a life that embodied the Stripes to make a change."
In Chapel, Lower School students are learning about notable black figures of the past and present as well. Chaplain Dana Hall commemorated Absalom Jones in anticipation of his Feast Day, celebrated around the world on Feb. 13. Jones was the first black priest in a major denomination in America, and was ordained by EA Founder Bishop William White himself. Additionally, students are lifting up Barbara Harris, the first female Bishop in the Anglican Communion and a Philadelphia native, in prayers.
Chaplain Hall shares that students were also impacted by watching the video of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman's reading during the 46th Inauguration – so much so, that one student stopped her after another performance.
"Did you catch our girl Amanda at the Super Bowl?" the 2nd grader excitedly asked Chaplain Hall.
Whether poring over pages of fictional figures or learning about real-life heroes, hearing the stories that celebrate the black experience – during Black History Month and throughout the year – helps students of all backgrounds build empathy, cultivate compassion, and grow as global citizens.