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This topic explicitly teaches students to be more conscious of other people’s feelings to create a more accepting and respectful school community.  It helps children to understand that empathy is the understanding of or the ability to identify with another person’s feelings or experiences. When we put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we are often more sensitive to what that person is experiencing and are less likely to tease or bully them. By explicitly teaching students to be more conscious of other people’s feelings, we can create a more accepting and respectful classroom and school community. Role play scenarios help the children to identify feelings and put themselves in the shoes of others.

The Kindness Rocks Project gives the children a chance to create something to make someone feel good.  The rocks are dropped in a public location and are there for anyone to pick up or add to with the notion that ‘just one message can change your whole day, outlook, life.’

First graders discuss classism and prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class.  Students understand the basic universal need for food and shelter for all people. Through discussions and reading picture books, students realize that not everyone can afford the same things or that not all people live in the same conditions.
As a way to contribute to the Hoboken community, the 1st graders host a toiletry kit drive.  Students work with their families to earn money to purchase items for each kit. Students write letters to various companies and local businesses to seek additional donations.

Students research the cost of items and see how they could make the most cost effective kit.
Upper School students visit the class to talk about the project and read books with 1st graders about homelessness.  Upper School students bring the toiletry kit drive to the Upper School.

Students sort and graph donations because they study graphs and data in math.  The class creates individual kits with the help of the Upper School Students. Students carry the kits to the shelter and share directly with shelter guests.

 

To introduce the concept of wage inequality and women’s rights, students exchange their tickets for classroom economy money. Students then complete their daily jobs and participate various classroom activities and get compensated for their work. The following week, boys earn slightly more money than the girls for completing similar jobs and the same amount of work. The class then follows up with discussions about fairness while highlighting some real life examples of wage inequality.

 

Students also addressed the underrepresentation of females in film and the portrayal of female stereotypes. From 2007 to 2012, only 30.8% of the speaking characters in the top 500 movies were women. The class reads several girl-empowering read-a-louds and talking about how girls have been portrayed in books and movies. As a culminating project, students redefined traditional standards of Disney princesses by creating their own. They created a #realprincess that promotes strong and complex female characters. They became advocates for change by sending our creations to Disney as well as highlighting these on our class website and school newsletter.

 

In third grade students learn about social activist, Marley Dias. She noticed that many of the books that she was reading at school only had white, male characters. She was a black female and didn’t see a lot of books with characters that looked like her. She thought she could try to fix this problem by going online and using social media. She started the hashtag #1000blackgirlbooks to gather 1,000 books with main characters that looked like her. She exceeded her goal, has been on the news, The Ellen Show, and now is the author of her own book.

 

To follow in her footsteps third graders conduct a Read-a-Thon where sponsors paid third graders for every book that they read. They then purchase books for our school and for kids in foster care. These books should help make our school libraries more diverse, which to us means that everyone should see book characters that look like them so that they feel included.

 

As part of the fourth grade social studies curriculum, the fourth graders learn all about the Lenni Lenape. At the end of the unit, students visit Waterloo Village, a recreated Lenape village. The fourth graders study the Lenni Lenape through a social justice lens, learning that the Lenni Lenape are not recognized as an official tribe, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The 4th graders then spend weeks researching the tribe and their history. Then, to coincide with their persuasive writing unit, they plan, draft, edit, revise, and send persuasive letters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., in hopes to convince them to recognize the Lenni Lenape as an official tribe. This year, the fourth graders received personalized responses from the Director of the OFA (Office of Federal Acknowledgement), thanking them for their letters. The OFA let them know that although the Lenni Lenape have not yet submitted documents needed for the petition, their support letters will become a part of the administrative record when those documents are received.

 

Students focus their learning during a nonfiction unit writing unit on LGBTQIAP+ rights. In doing so they started by understanding the issues LGBTQIAP+ people have felt in the past and created a timeline highlighting important events in the fight for LGBTQIAP+ rights. They worked towards reading up on articles on contemporary issues that still face this community. Examples of this include reading on the case in North Carolina where a transgender student was unable to use the bathroom that best conformed to their gender identity and the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that went to the Supreme Court.
They follow up their learning by conducting research projects about pioneers for LGBTQIAP+ rights. These projects involved students learning biographical and professional information about different activists in the community, with an emphasis on the change they have impacted on their communities. They answered the essential question: What contributions have people made to justice and fairness historically?

Students also work to understand identity groups and how certain identity groups face advantages while others are disadvantaged in the same spaces.  They examined their own lives, utilizing their own conceptions of identity to see how they fit into their own communities.

 

In this project students chose a significant sporting event that was associated with social justice to research and report on in class. While the issue has come to light recently with NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, there are other events dating back much further. In the 1930s, Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in the Berlin Olympic Games which were hosted by Nazi Germany. There are many events throughout the 20th century that show the impact sports and athletes have had on issues of human and civil rights. From Jackie Robinson integrating baseball to Kathryn Switzer becoming the first woman to compete and complete the Boston Marathon, sporting events have become a vehicle for social justice.

In conjunction with reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and study of the Holocaust, students learn about the stages of genocide as they apply to the current humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. Unfortunately, much like the early stages of the Holocaust and other genocides (namely, Rwanda), not many people are discussing South Sudan or the issues this fledgling country is facing. Students spend multiple days researching and presenting about the information discovered and then relating this to the early stages of the Holocaust that were covered during the study of Night.

After collecting information about South Sudan and the current crisis, students launch an Awareness Campaign to spread the word about South Sudan and to spark interest in this part of the world which is receiving very little media attention. Students divide themselves into groups based on their best skills/assets and each group became responsible for some piece of the awareness campaign. The groups are as follows:

In 5th grade, the students study the decline of the Monarch butterfly. They research the causes of the decline and how we as a society and individually can help in its plight.
Students read the article, “Plight of the Monarch” and watch some corresponding news segments on the topic. Students write letters to the US Wildlife Fish and Game, describing our efforts to help with the monarch populations. This organization donates $1 for every letter received.
Students raise butterflies while learning about their metamorphosis during the life cycles and ecosystems units. Students release the butterflies when they are fully mature. Students also grow milkweed as part of the 7th grade urban garden in hopes that some of the butterflies will lay eggs for the next generation.
The class uses the compost collected by the 6th and 7th grade to nurture the milkweed.

 

As part of the Middle School Girls Who Code club, students completed a large scale, team coding project around theme of social justice. The club was given a choice of various projects decided on sexism as the theme. Based on this theme, they created various games and animations. This work was shared with other students and parents at our end-of-year share day.

 

Through analyzing the conflict of the protagonist in the historical fiction study of The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, students analyze the devastating effects of abuse and neglect on children. The class meets with an advocate from Hudson County’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) to discuss the actual effects of child abuse and neglect. Additionally, students conduct a bake sale and organize a book collection for the CASA library.

 

Students look specifically at the work of José Guadalupe Posad, a political cartoonist and printmaker during the reign of Porfirio Diaz. Posada frequently depicted politicians and other important figures as skeletons in his work relating his imagery back to Indigenous roots (pre-Colonialism). Students explore his and other related art and find ways to connect in terms of both art and enrichment curriculum.

Students examine contributions from indigenous cultures and look at languages (both visual and verbal). For example, the Taino provided roots to the English language, just the same as Greek and Latin have and on a similar timeline. Students expand that to “visual language” with petroglyphs (historically compared to hieroglyphs) as to what people think of as contributions from the great civilizations and through the marks of contemporary indigenous art of artists like Juane Quick-to-See Smith, Jimmie Durham and Fritz Scholder. To further expand upon notions of visual language, students work with American Sign Language to create visual images/gestures for complex words like semantics, justice, equality, etc. and submit their creations to the Association for the Deaf to possibly adopt in the ASL vocabulary.

Students in Spanish II learn about food and how food comes to people, such as concepts like farm to table. Students then examine and compare the statistics of poverty and hunger in Peru and the United States. As a result of this exploration, students create posters, brochures and educational materials to educate others in the Spanish-speaking community the importance of healthy eating while still staying within a budget. Students also study Cesar Chavez as an activist of farm workers. Students partner with the Upper School GenerationOn club to run a food drive for the Hoboken Shelter.

In English class, students write poems on social issues impacting their community. Mayor Ravi Bhalla has declared Hoboken “a fair and welcoming city” to support the rights of all immigrants in Hoboken. As a result, students work to understand the immigrant experience before writing poems on the issue of immigration. Students publish their poems in a gallery at the  Upper School and through the Hoboken Historical Museum in a community anthology titled I’Mmigrant, which include works from several other schools in Hoboken. Several Upper School students have been selected to perform their writing to the Hoboken community in a public reading.

Students at the Upper School learn that the inventor of the steam locomotive and steam ferry was none other than Hoboken’s own Colonel John Stevens. Students take a trip to the Hoboken Terminal (where trains and ferries run multiple times daily) and discover that John Stevens is not even mentioned nor recognized at the terminal. Students decide that they wanted to give John Stevens more recognition for his accomplishments in the town. Students work to: 1) Change the name of the Hoboken Terminal to a name that recognizes Col. John Stevens. 2) Have Hoboken recognize Col. Stevens with a local holiday “Stevens Day.” 3) Paint a mural which showed the history of the Hoboken Terminal, such as Col. Stevens’ ferry ride to Philadelphia, the Lenape who inhabited the land, and the Hurricane Sandy helpers who saved the lives of NJ Transit passengers.

Environmental science students research and develop presentations on alternative energy sources. They work in groups to create pamphlets that will help educate Middle School science classes about the importance of alternative energy sources.