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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Children as Advocates: Beginnings

Young Children as Advocates
Dana Bentley, Beginner North Teacher
Betty Chan, Beginner North Teacher

Establishing Individual and Group Identity: “Me” Stories and “We” Stories 

Teacher Perspective:

When doing advocacy work with young children, it is essential that they first establish a sense of their own identities in the school space.  It is only when children feel seen and known that they are able to turn outward to their potential impacts on the broader community.  It is through the establishment of this powerful sense of identity that children feel the peace and security that allows them to consider the  needs of a larger community.

As children begin to establish their identities, they ignite connections across their community.  They begin to “know” one another, and to share communal stories of the “we” they are becoming.  As teachers, we highlight these connections to the children, helping them to see each other in relation to one another, and bringing their community stories to the forefront.  As the “we” stories of the community grow, the children become a more confident and cohesive whole.  It is from this space that they are able to connect as a community and turn to change they wish to make in the larger world.

During the first months of school, we focus on these elements of the children’s identities, establishing a strong foundation from which advocacy can grow.  Interlaced with this work is a focus on fundamental anti-bias work, setting the groundwork for their perspectives and our community standards over the course of the year.

Teacher Reflection Questions:
Who are these children?
What are their stories?
Do they feel seen and heard?
How can we highlight all children’s stories and identities?
What is the story of the community?
How are the children connecting with one another?
How might we make these stories visible?
What are the shared interests and questions emerging from the community?
What habits of mind are we supporting as a part of our classroom culture?

Foundational Project Work:

Portfolios: Developing and Sharing Family Pages

The “Me” Story:
As a part of their classroom work, every child developed a “family page” as the introduction to his or her portfolio.  This is direct connection between home and school, framing the child’s home life as central to their school identity as well.  Children then share their page with their classmates, bringing their home stories into the culture of the classroom.

The “We” Story:
When these stories are shared, classmates are invited to ask questions and to make comments.  The stories told, shared, and discussed become a part of our community as a whole, sharing not only children’s individual identity, but creating knowledge and connections through shared story.  Through this process, children’s families and their family stories become a part of the fabric of our classroom community.

The Advocacy Connection:
Children have to develop connections and relationships that encompass similarities and difference in order to evolve as advocates.  A fundamental building block of this process is family, and the diversity of the families represented within a classroom community.  Through the sharing of these stories as a part of the “official” curriculum, the many faces and forms of family are brought to the forefront of our classroom, becoming not just visible, but a part of our story.  Through sharing, embracing, questioning, and collaborating around our stories of family, those diversities become part of a shared identity.  In this way, we position the children as advocates for the diversities of family represented within our community.

The Colors of Us: Mixing Our Own Skin Color


The “Me” Story:
To begin some of our anti-bias work in Beginners North, we investigated the colors available in our paint collection.  We noticed that none of them were the right color for any of our skin color.  Going through a process of discussion and problem solving, we realized that our skin is all different, so we would need 19 different colors for all of us to be represented in our paint collection.  Working with our art teacher Vanessa, we looked closely at our skin colors, carefully tested and mixed them, and created names that described our own skin tones, thus physically representing each of us in the classroom space.

The “We” Story:
The Colors of Us is also a “we” story.  Using the concrete materials of paint, we thought about representation, and about every member of the community.  We considered the need to represent all of our bodies in paint, and considered our connections and differences.  This became a part of our shared story as well.  Finally, we completed this process with the development of collaborative community standards.  We signed this document with our handprints, using the skin color paints that we developed.  This “document” now hangs in our classroom, a visual representation of the many shades of us, and the ways in which we come together in caring for our community.

The Advocacy Connection:
Many biases emerge and grow in the silences.  When we ignore differences, when it is not invited into the body of our classroom work, we breed discomfort and fear around discussions about diversities.  “The Colors of Us” was a process by which we brought some of our basic differences to the center of the classroom, making these differences a safe part of our community discussions.  Through looking at skin color, naming, thinking through ideas of representation, we enable early thinking and meaning making about anti-bias work.

The Artifact Project


The “Me” Story:
As part of our work as a class this semester, each child has had the opportunity to bring home the “artifact bag.”  This tool instructs students and families to pack three objects that have a home story that the child would like to share.  Each child shares these objects with her or his classmates, taking questions and comments as a part of this process.  The objects are then housed in an “exhibit” in the classroom that showcases that child’s image as well as the objects that she or he shared.
This process offers another powerful connection between home and school culture, inviting children to make their home stories and adventures visible in the context of their classroom life.  By keeping these artifacts in the classroom, they are visual signal of the connection between home and school, inviting the child’s home experiences into their school life.

The “We” Story:
Through this sharing process, children make connections to each other’s broader life experiences.  The presence of these objects in our classroom space invites a continued relationship and questioning that is a part of the development of these connections.  Finally, all children’s objects are set up as observational drawing prompts, so that each set of objects has a “turn” to be the focus of the class’ observational drawing.  As the children look closely at each other’s objects, ask questions, and draw, they represent each other, and literally draw connections to one another, while also working on a range of other academic skills.


The Advocacy Connection:
The Artifact Project establishes a higher level of collaboration and close thinking about diversities, home stories, school stories, and our relationships within the classroom community.  As the children have become more established in the classroom, they are better able to look beyond their own stories, and into the ideas and experiences of their classmates.  In thinking about anti-bias, advocacy work, we work closely with children in slowly stepping outward, from self, to dyads, to community connections, to researching and deeply knowing the classroom group as a whole.  As we go through this process, we work with children to deeply know, investigate, and celebrate diversities.  Through this process, we position children as advocates, holding their stories, the stories of others, and the shared stories they have developed through evolving identities.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

EMPATHY - Art for Social Change

Art for Social Change
Sasha Bergmann, MS 3D Art Teacher

Art for Social Change will continue for a second year as an extension of the Middle School Guerrilla Artist group.  This slideshow will introduce you to projects worked on last year, as well as an on-going EMPATHY sculpture this group plans to display in a Cambridge park this fall.

Friday, June 9, 2017

UCG Announcement, AY 17-18

Urban Connections Grants

We are pleased to announce the following Urban Connection Grants for academic year 2017-2018. BB&N will support eight grants next year, four new connections and four continuing programs. The new grant connections will be established during summer 2017 and implemented throughout the school year. Each grant will connect BB&N students to groups and organizations throughout Cambridge, Boston and the Greater Boston Area.

Please explore this blog for in depth information about the current programs established this past year and to learn about the new grant programming throughout next school year.

New Urban Connections Grants:

Faith Traditions in our Community
Sasha Bergmann, MS 3D Art Teacher
Beth Brooks, MS Librarian
Stefanie Haug, MS Counselor
This program will create an exploratory, interactive workshop with the goal of introducing Middle School students to a variety of faith and religious traditions and spiritual practices, such as key tenets, holidays, and impact on daily life. This grant aims to bring religious and/or spiritual leaders in the Boston area, potentially from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, to BB&N to discuss their own religious traditions, and how they intersect with other faiths. There will be interactive components to this program, including sharing of ceremonies and personal experiences and creating displays to share with the larger Middle School community. Students will have a safe, collaborative space in which to learn about religious and faith traditions and spiritual practices similar to and different from their own, to explore key tenets and ceremonies, and to explore the interconnectedness of many world religions. We hope and expect that students will come away with a deeper understanding of religious and/or spiritual traditions and how they may inform people’s lives. This program will collaborate with the Upper School grant focused on religious diversity in Greater Boston.

Religious Diversity in Greater Boston
Gustavo Carrera, US History & Social Sciences Department Head and Teacher
One of the school’s core values is: “We value a diverse and inclusive community.” As a way to honor this value, the Upper School history department is committed to the teaching history from the perspective of minority groups. In addition, the department has made an effort to teach students about a variety of religious traditions. In order to deepen that understanding, this program will establish a relationship with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and its member congregations to bring students to places of worship and to bring interfaith panels to BB&N. By visiting places of worship, students will experience the architectural expression of a variety of religions, religious practices and rituals, and the similarities between these religions. This partnership with GBIO will bring interfaith or multi-denominational panels to school to discuss and present on specific topics, offering students the opportunity to pose questions based on their classroom learning. The expectation of this program is that students will gain empathy for a variety of religions by learning about the similarities and differences of various denominations. They will gain very specific content knowledge on ritual and worship. In addition, this program will collaborate with the Middle School grant focused on faith traditions in our community.

Wampanoag Presence and Impact
Simone Esteves, MS History Teacher
The goal of this grant program is to bring indigenous peoples out of the past and into the present for the Middle School students. This program will connect students to the Wampanoag tribe, including current people, culture and historical sites.  A group of students will visit Martha’s Vineyard for the day, a trip comprised of speakers and tours focusing primarily on the Wampanoag experience, perspective and history, but will also include the history and experiences of African American people on the island. The intended outcome of this program is to emphasize for students that the indigenous experience and influence, particularly in New England, has not only a long history but is still very present. The focus of this grant on the Wampanoag tribe lends itself seamlessly to the 8th grade curriculum. The 7th graders will also be able to make connections to their curriculum while studying indigenous peoples of Latin America. This program will enable students to make a variety of personal connections to the curriculum and bring history back to life.

Young Children as Advocates
Dana Bentley, Beginner Teacher
Betty Chan, Beginner Teacher
Our advocacy project will seek to frame the Beginners as advocates from their earliest experiences in the BB&N community, and each experience in advocacy is grown out of the children’s interests and passions about the world. Through our advocacy project, children will develop a common space for discussion and questioning about community, collectively work to shift the focus from self to others, and then work collaboratively to address an issue that feels important to the class as a whole.  These early months of discussion, research, and collaboration will lead to sustaining a social action project, framing the children as active members of the community with the ability to make change around issues of concern for them. Throughout this project, we will work with children to make sense of injustice, and to see themselves as able to have an impact. The students themselves will choose and develop the urban connection that is in line with their interests and focus of their advocacy project.  The outcome of this work is manifold, in that it teaches the children that they are able to make change and have the responsibility to make change. When they take thoughtful, collaborative steps toward justice as young children, it shapes their identities as learners, their expectations of themselves, and their understandings of what learning can do. This process defines care and kindness, integral elements in learning. In this first year at BB&N, we hope that advocacy becomes part of their identities as young learners who are intelligent, thoughtful, and capable of changing the world.

Continuing Urban Connections Grants:

Art for Social Change
Sasha Bergmann, MS 3D Art Teacher
Art for Social Change will continue for a second year as an extension of the Middle School Guerrilla Artist group, connecting students to social activism through public art throughout Cambridge. This grant focuses on learning about and creating artwork for social change, while tackling all considerations and challenges presented when preparing art for the elements and securing a display location.  This program exposes students to local activism through art and expands the audience whom the students reach with their artwork and message. Cambridge has a history of activism and public artworks that the Art for Social Change group aims to honor and celebrate. Through this grant, Middle School students will experience the entire process of creating public art with a message.

Captivating Historical Haunts
Beverly Malone, Director of Teacher Training Institute
This program connects our Lower School students to the rich history located right here in Cambridge. This club educates our Lower School students about the significance of the homes and the people who lived in them in the Buckingham Street area of Cambridge. In its first year, 5th and 6th grade students engaged in learning about five local resources that surround the school, all on the National Register of Historic Places. Students identified five historical figures who lived in the Buckingham Street area, created a diary of the five historical places they visited, and shared their findings with peers.  This grant will continue for a second year supporting the program’s goal to provide context, meaning and connection for our students to BB&N’s unique Cambridge location.

Global Ecology Education: Creating a Path to Sustainability & Leadership
Karina Baum, Director of Global Education and US Science Teacher
This grant program established a BB&N partnership with the Global Ecology Education Initiative (GEEI) at Boston University. The GEEI is led by highly-regarded biologist and science education professor Dr. Douglas Zook. GEEI also partners with the Arnold Arboretum of Jamaica Plain, which is operated by Harvard University. During this academic year, Upper School students had fieldwork experiences at the Arboretum led by Dr. Zook. They engaged in directed-learning activities, allowing them to cultivate relationships with and knowledge about natural habitats, as well as a first-hand understanding of the importance of preserving biodiversity. In addition, Dr. Zook worked with the students at BB&N to support and follow up on their fieldwork experiences. This grant will continue into its second year, supporting BB&N students as they develop global leadership skills in ecological sustainability.

Sixth Grade Pen Pal and Mural Project
Leila Huff, Grade 6 Homeroom and Language Arts Teacher
Stevie Olson, Grade 6 Homeroom and Social Studies Teacher
Berhane Zerom, Grade 6 Homeroom and Math Teacher
This program continues to connect the BB&N 6th grade students with 6th grade students at Al-Noor Academy (ANA,) an Islamic middle and high school. Students from both schools worked together to create a mural expressing the question “What Makes a Healthy Community” during the first year and “How Should Global Citizen Strive to Communicate” this past year. They began to develop their new relationships as pen pals and wrote back and forth to introduce themselves, learning about each other’s interests, values, and communities. Working together this past year, students from both schools explored the theme of communication and created a mural. Continuing on for a third year, this program includes interdisciplinary learning and opportunities for the communities to gather and foster mutual respect, while creating a lasting mural to represent their connection and collaboration.

"I feel like receiving the Urban Grant demonstrates the school's commitment to support young people at BB&N as they grow toward the aspiration of being global citizens. In considering how to be a part of the vast and complicated world, local and personal connections are foundational to understanding what community is and how to build positive relationships. The hope is that when these values are fostered throughout the student experience, young people will leave this community with the ability and desire to impact the world with positive change."

- Stevie Olson
Urban Connections Grant Recipient
Grade 6 Homeroom and Social Studies Teacher