Eighth Graders Consider Race, Equality and the American Dream

This spring, Mount Madonna School (MMS) eighth grade student dove deep into a curated collection of writings, ranging from essays to poems to novel excerpts, focusing on issues of systemic racism in the United States of America.

Authors ranged from Martin Luther King Jr., Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou to contemporary writers and poets, like Amanda Gorman, Jason Reynolds, Ibram Kendri, Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson and Nic Stone. Middle school English teacher Sampad Kachuck constructed this focused study unit.

“These pieces explore this critically relevant topic in a myriad of ways, both personal, societal, and global,” commented Kachuck.

By Lagi Hunnicutt

After the reading the works, the students engaged in two different, intersecting projects. The first involved interacting directly with the texts. Using five or more of the selections, students selected at least 20 quotes or passages that struck them in some way. They then wrote about each quote, exploring their reactions, including what the passage revealed in terms of literary context as well as what it incited in them.

“I believe that all people should be given a fair start and a finish that they deserve,” commented eighth grader Colby Culberston.

For the second project students chose between writing personal responses from three or more of the readings, to composing a rap, song or poem, or, creating artistic works reflecting their connection to the themes of the readings. This project included a thematic connective writing allowing the student to

explore the purpose of their creations.

By Amelie Zands

Eighth grader Amelie Zands said her art piece was in response to two writings, The Front Lines of Ferguson by Rembert Browne and Holdin’ Out for a (Nonwhite) (Funny) (Fictional) Hero. The latter piece came from a blog titled “I am Begging My Mother Not to Read This Blog,” which listed no official author.

“In Holdin’ Out, the author talks about how the books we read may affect our view on racism,” reflected Zands. “And how most of the books we read have white protagonists or the “good characters.” The author talks about how our minds are molded by the things we read and how maybe some of the racism we experience is because of the books we are feeding to the young minds of children. The author writes, ‘I can’t help but think that if we raise our kids on a steady diet of “these are stories about kids like you” and “these are stories about kids who are almost like you, it’s got to be a contributing factor to the other-ness. A small drop in the bucket of a collective idea about what is normal and what is not.’ I had this in mind as I drew the children reading at the feet of the cops. I drew the red lines coming off of them to show the information that is benign passed into the minds of the police as they shoot the people who are classified as the ones who are the evil or just the ones that are not like them, the “others.”

After completing these two projects, the students dove into the groundbreaking play, “Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. This story features a Black family in the 1950s who is trying to navigate racism and pursue the American Dream.

“The play is a powerful examination of not only family and generational dynamics, but perhaps more importantly, the challenges of inequality and discrimination,” commented Kachuck. Once the class completed its study of the play, the students completed a final piece, ranging from an original scene or story to formal essay.

“The hope is that through empathy and engagement,” observed Kachuck, “our younger generations, empowered with positive visioning, can help to create the dramatic changes that must ensue, so that all people, no matter what color or ethnicity, are accepted and treated fairly.”

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Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.