by Laurice Hwang
The Service Learning program for the 5th grade has been focused this year on two central themes – the elderly and (dis)ability. These two areas of focus have been integrated intentionally into the curriculum through specific units of study to raise awareness and inspire action. The first theme developed because of a longstanding relationship our school has with a local nursing home that our 5th graders have visited for many years. Aside from visiting the nursing home, curricular ties were developed to deepen the students’ understanding of the experience of seniors, including pen-paling with homebound seniors (beginning in 4th grade), guest speakers from Heights and Hills, watching and discussing the documentary “Alive Inside,” and talking about the experience of seniors in the United States and China.
The latter theme emerged more organically based on the experiences of students. The Wheelchair Design Challenge in science class initially developed because of the students’ desire to help a 5th grade classmate who has been wheelchair-bound. As students became interested in the topic of (dis)ability, connections were made in humanities class through reading El Deafo and Wonder, and by visitors to the 5th grade, including deaf members of the BFS community and Eliza Factor, BFS parent and founder of Extreme Kids and Crew, a play-space for children with special needs. In advisory, students also researched famous people with (dis)abilities, including Albert Einstein, Temple Grandin, Muhammad Ali, and many others.
In addition to these service learning experiences, 5th and 6th grade students have been offered opportunities to respond to community needs through activism. Aside from all-Middle School initiatives to promote activism, such as BFS participation in the People’s Climate March (organized by the Service Learning Office), the Day of Concern about police brutality and race in the criminal justice system (organized by the Student Council), learning about the Birmingham Children’s March (organized by the Diversity Office), and stewardship initiatives throughout the Middle School, students have additional opportunities to develop their activism through the 5th/6th Grade Youth Action Project (which parallels YAP groups that exist for the 7th/8th students and the 9th-12th grade students). Those who chose to participate in this group have been meeting during lunch and they identified marriage equality as an issue they wanted to delve into more deeply. They created “Love Must Win!” t-shirts to raise awareness about the current marriage equality case at the Supreme Court.