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"Don't Be a Bystander,” says one of the anti-bullying posters created by Tualatin High School students. It’s an important message for students to hear.
In an effort to combat the growing bullying crisis, Teacher Rachel Robinson showed her advanced digital arts classes Teaching Tolerance’s film, “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History.”
Many of my third-graders are very angry. They have good reason. Growing up in the most violent area in Oakland, many have lost family members to violence or experienced racial injustice. They distrust the people who are supposed to protect them.
Anthony was one of my angriest students. His father was in prison. Anthony told me that he wanted to kill his father because fathers aren’t supposed to leave their families. He was 6 years old at the time.
I overheard two students talking in class one day about their after-school plans. One said she would be volunteering at the local women’s shelter.
I hurried over, excited to congratulate her on this great thing she was doing—being part of her community and supporting marginalized groups. Lesson plans were already beginning to form in my head: writing prompts about social awareness, student interviews with our populations of homeless, hungry, mentally and intellectually disabled and those in poverty. I imagined students writing editorials to the local newspaper about the needs of our community.
In our kindergarten classroom, there are no desks. Instead, we have three large, child-sized tables, around which 20 children and three teachers can fit. We call it the writing table. Here, students can draw, write and complete phonics-based workbooks.
One morning, Greta was drawing a picture of something that had happened the day before: She and her friend Lily had made bird nests during outside recess and had placed them all throughout the yard. Greta was illustrating herself and Lily making nests. Her classmate Ellie watched her create the drawing.
My 4-year-old daughter Sophia was confused. She looked to me for an answer. “Greyson's not black,” she said. “Her skin is brown.” This was the first time I had heard my daughter bring up the issue of race or skin color.
Emotions can be frightening for all of us, especially for children. But if students don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings, they may turn to acting out. This fails to resolve the feelings and makes a teacher’s life much more difficult.
Something was different at the school cafeteria.
The menu included a vegetarian meal of elbow macaroni with cheddar cheese and broccoli. There was also a choice of a 100-percent-beef burger (without pink slime!) on a whole-grain bun. And there was ginger-carrot soup, whole-grain breads, leafy green salads, black beans and shredded cheese.
We are all still thinking, talking, teaching and grieving about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old in Florida, wearing that universal hoodie. Again, as a nation, we confront the issue of race and what it means to be an African-American teenage male in this country.