“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Westside School is committed to promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and cultural competence in our educational program, employment practices, school community, and governance. Inclusiveness as a fundamental value, diversity as a key element, and cultural competence as a vital skill necessary to prepare students to participate in and contribute to a global society.
In the classroom this year, students in all grades at Westside School participated in Black Lives Matter At School Week of Action from February 1-5. The purpose of this nationwide week of action is “to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation in school communities for people of all ages to engage with critical issues of racial justice." The week was dedicated to affirming all Black identities by centering Black voices, empowering students, and teaching students about Black experiences that extend beyond enslavement and/or the Civil Rights Movement. Black history is everyone's history and the struggles and injustices the Black community face are still present in society today. We want students to recognize racism and know they have the power to act and change their community and world.
Lessons during the week of action, during Black History Month, and continuing throughout the year, will center around the 13-Guiding Principles of the BLM Movement and emphasize social justice issues as well as how students can stand up for Black lives. Check out some of the incredible things Westside students have been doing around Black Lives Matter this month.
Building on their January discussion of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, preschool kicked-off Black History Month by creating awareness of current Black American leaders. Following some of the preschoolers’ interests in ballet, they read Firebird by Misty Copeland, who is the first Black dancer at American Ballet Theatre to become Principal dancer. In addition, they watched clips of her dancing and her appearance on Sesame Street.
Of the 13-guiding principles of Black Lives Matter, pre-Kindergarten chose to focus on Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement, Diversity, Transgender Affirming, and Queer Affirming for the Week of Action. Students read books including One, Our Class Is A Family, Introducing Teddy, The Colors of Us, It’s Ok to be Different, and Papa, Daddy, Riley. Students also watched a clip of Dr. Maya Angelou talk about “Being a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud” and read her poem, If I Could Catch a Rainbow. Students came up with a list of ways they could be rainbows in other people’s clouds.
In Kindergarten, teachers talked with students about what the phrase Black Lives Matter means and were introduced to the guiding principles of Restorative Justice, Empathy, Diversity, and Centering Black Women. Through books, clips from Sesame Street, and coloring projects, students reflected on treating others fairly, regardless of the color of their skin. In celebration of our beautiful skin colors, Kindergarteners also read a book called The Skin We Live In.
In first grade, students learned about the life and legacy of Rosa Parks who changed the landscape of the Civil Rights Movement. Students read several books, and engaged in developmentally appropriate conversations about the history of the Civil Rights Movement. A first grade tradition has long been to write birthday wishes for the birthday celebrant. Thus, on Thursday, February 4th, students wrote their own sweet birthday wishes for Rosa Parks, who would have turned 108 that day.
Students continued their discussion by learning about another key figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Ruby Bridges. Because Ruby was a first grader herself, this gave students pause to think and empathize with what she may have felt as she walked through an “angry crowd” protesting her attendance at William Frantz Elementary School.
In Visual Art class, students studied the biographical story and artistic style of Jean-Michel Basquiat with a book called Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe. Despite some challenging life experiences, Jean-Michel remains dedicated to his craft. His art is neither neat nor clean and is “not inside the lines''. After learning about the artist, students began creating their own bright, bold Basquiat-inspired masterpieces!
During the Week of Action, second grade students started a discussion on the 13-guiding principles of Black Lives Matter, which will continue throughout the remaining part of the school year. For each guiding principle, second graders read a myriad of books illustrating the many Black leaders, activists, authors, scientists, artists, and musicians who demonstrate through their work the important message these principles teach. Using journal writing, art, math, science, and social studies, second graders focused on using their own voice to fight for causes that are important to them. Causes that recognize basic human rights, and commit to building a loving, inclusive community.
Third grade students have been discussing how to be a better friend and supporter of historically marginalized groups. Students recognized they knew a lot about certain figures, but wanted to learn more and dive deeper into their education on Black leaders in the arts. This included everyone from Duke Ellington to Jean-Michel Basquiat. Their education will continue through the month of February and will include a visit and discussion with Caldecote/Correta Scott King award winning author Javaka Steptoe. In addition to writing about Basquiat, he's also done books on Jimi Hendrix, as well as a poetry collection celebrating Black fathers.
Through reading books such as, This Book is Anti-Racist, by Tiffany Jewell, a Black biracial author, journaling, and discussions, fourth grade students have been making connections to their own lives, current events, and the 13-guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students continue to practice their nonfiction reading skills by reading articles on Newsela about the historic contributions Black Americans have made to our country, and shared short biographies from the Little Leaders series about the many trailblazing Black women and men in history.
Spanish & Music in Third and Fourth Grades
In Spanish class, third and fourth graders have started a month-long project aimed at increasing emotional intelligence, building Spanish words related to emotion, and studying Black leaders. The unit will culminate with students analyzing posters of protesters with the lens of I see, I think, I feel, I wonder. They will use the BLM framework to discuss how and why emotional reactions are different. Students will then vote on an emotion for each poster. All in Spanish of course!
Later in the month, third and fourth grade students will participate in an integrated Spanish and music project around the book Drum Dream Girl. Students will make connections between Afro-Caribbean music and culture, female leadership and excellence, and the connection between food and music migration.
Middle School PE
In Physical Education, Middle School students explored the recent activism by NBA/WNBA players as well as prevailing attitudes about Black quarterbacks in the NFL. In addition, students discussed discrimination against Black players in sports throughout history and watched a documentary about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
Fifth grade students began working on a Black Lives Matter month-long project, where students will start by reading news articles related to the 13-guiding principles of Black Lives Matter from Newsela. Students will then create pieces of art (poem, word cloud, collage, drawing) for each article and it’s guiding principle.
After sharing what they already knew about the BLM movement, sixth grade students participated in a lesson called "Words Matter" to make sure they had all the necessary vocabulary to engage in conversations about race/racism and Black Lives Matter. Throughout the week, lessons highlighted 2-3 principles of the BLM movement each day and provided time to discuss why the principles are foundational to the movement.
Students were given some choice and voice in the lesson planning and decided they wanted to focus on the principle "Black Women" for an extended inquiry. The principle is defined as, "We build a space that centers and affirms Black women and girls. We work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in our communities." The students researched influential Black American and Black women and girls to educate themselves and others, working together to create this book: Influential Black Women.
Sixth graders ended the week talking about Travon Martin and how his life mattered. As a class they committed to learning about and standing up for Black Lives Matter every week, not just during the Week of Action. It will continue to be an important part of the sixth grade curriculum throughout the year.
Sixth Grade Connections
In Connections, students continued their study of the book, This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, a Black biracial author. During BLM at School Week of Action, students explored prejudice and microaggressions in the world around them, and especially in advertising. Some messages were clearly offensive, but others were much more subtle. Those subtle microaggressions based on bias and prejudice were brought to light and discussed. Students worked together to identify microaggressions and then brainstorm alternative ways to deliver the same advertising message.
Additionally, students traced the history of racism and prejudice in Disney films, using Disney’s recently established “Stories Matter” website. This led to some great conversations about representation in movies. Both that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPoC) should be represented in movies, and that they need to be represented accurately, as opposed to being cast as stereotyped caricatures.
Seventh and Eighth Grade Language Arts
In seventh and eighth grade Language Arts, students were introduced to Black authors. Seventh graders learned about Langston Hughes, the Harlem Renaissance, and Hughes’s literary legacy. They also conducted a deep reading of Thank You, Ma’am, followed by a discussion where students used all of their background knowledge about the author and his time period to draw out important thoughts.
Eighth grade Language Arts students took time to “meet” authors Nic Stone, Jason Reynolds, Tomi Adeyemi, and Elizabeth Acevedo. In small groups, students were able to dive deeper into a chosen author and share videos, books, and resources with each other. The exploration of Black authors will not end with this month and will continue to be a part of Language Arts for both seventh and eighth grade students year round.
Seventh and Eighth Grade Social Studies
In seventh and eighth grade Social Studies class, students dove deeper into Black Lives Matter, which they have been discussing all year. Students watched a clip from 2015 called, A Conversation About Growing Up Black, made by the New York Times, which features young Black men and boys discussing their daily experiences. They then reflected on their own race or what their shared experiences showed about systemic racism in the United States.
Using an interview with Jamil Smith from NPR's Code Switch to think more deeply about the effects of seeing violence against Black Americans, students reflected on the role of technology and how much violence went unnoticed during the decades before cellphone cameras and police video footage.
Students heard about Rodney King, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor, and discussed whether the widespread awareness of Black Lives Matter and racial injustice will result in concrete change or if white privilege will push America away from addressing this problem. We cited the example of the recent domestic terrorist attack on the capitol and how white privilege, systemic racism, and Black Lives Matter connected to that event.
The Week of Action ended with celebrating Black joy and positive change, specifically looking at the work Black women did in getting communities of color out to vote during the 2020 election. All of this circled back to the fact that Black history is American history, and to ignore or only highlight this history for one week, one month, or for one holiday is inaccurate, oppressive, and racist.
Eighth Grade Leadership
Eighth graders are also reading the text, This Book is Anti-Racist, by Black biracial author Tiffany Jewell. They have explored many concepts in this text that overlap with the work they’re doing in Language Arts and Social Studies class. Jewell encourages a great deal of reflection by young people, and our eighth grade students have explored their own personal histories, their family histories, and the ways in which their own stories intersect with both racist and anti-racist moments in the past and present.
After thinking deeply about their own historical context, students have begun to work on building what Jewell refers to as their “anti-racist toolbox.” They have examined their own personal superpowers and ways in which they can choose to disrupt and interrupt racist structures and actions. Jewell’s call to action on the part of young people reinforces the idea that it is not enough for individuals to be non-racist, but that anti-racism is the only antidote to the personal and systemic racism that still exists in the world.
As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Change starts with acknowledgment, education, and empathy.
Together, the Westside School community — students, staff, faculty, administration, trustees, alumni, and families — can counteract racism, promote the dismantling of systems of oppression, and empower each other towards ensuring a more equitable world.