The Advent fifth grade class participated in a civil rights unit to correspond with Black History Month, our classroom novel, and a field trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We began by reading the historical fiction novel, The Lions of Little Rock. It takes place in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958, after the incident with the Little Rock Nine. It portrays both the integration and segregation that occurred during this time. At its fundamental level, it is a novel about friendship, courage, tolerance, and justice.  Marlee, an extremely shy 12- year- old girl, finds her voice in this story and uses it to speak out against prejudice. The author, Kristin Levine, emphasizes the invaluable lesson of friendship over prejudice and how important it is for young people to speak out against injustice. To learn more about this book, go to Common Sense Media. It was an excellent novel for our middle school students to read and engage in meaningful discussions about the civil rights movement in school and at home.  Our exploration of this tragic time in America’s history helped our students to better understand the struggle, determination, and triumph of all those courageous enough to stand up against racism.


In conjunction with our civil rights unit, the fifth graders researched famous civil rights locations. They studied about various places where courageous individuals and large groups stood up to segregation and bigotry. The purpose of these nonviolent protests was to defend the fundamental right of equality for all Americans. As a culmination of their research, students had to create an eye witness account from the place’s perspective.  By shifting the point of view, they were able to place themselves in that historical moment and experience it as a bystander. We then visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute,, and saw many of these historical sites highlighted in the museum. Other memorable moments of the field trip included walking though historical Kelly Ingram Park and standing on the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.


To conclude our unit, students researched famous civil rights leaders and created I Am poems to highlight their involvement in the civil rights movement and lasting contribution to American history. In addition, Advent had a guest speaker for Black History Month, Janice Kelsey, who wrote a book about the Children’s March in Birmingham in 1963. Our students were very excited to learn more about the power of young people to bring about real change.

Our students participated in NCTE’s African American Read-In. During the month of February, schools across the country are encouraged to read and share texts written by African American authors as part of Black History Month. At the African American Read-In, a count is taken of who attends, and that count is documented in the “report card” as a measure of the global reach of this program each year. Ms. Wanda Williams, a former teacher at Advent, lead this read-in with our fifth grade class.  Each student chose a poem from an African American poet and shared it with the class.  Afterwards, our students were added to the total count of people from around the globe who read African American authors during the month of February. To learn more about this event, go HERE!.

Shannon Cabraja

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