Honoring the Armenian Genocide through Poetry

Posted by Mary Hendra on April 24, 2020

April 24th is annually honored as a day of recognition for the Armenian genocide - the date on which Armenian leaders, writers, and intellectuals were taken from their homes in a meticulously organized beginning to what would become the genocide itself.

In our resource book, Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: the Genocide of the Armenians, we include several poems written by Diana Der-Hovanessian, which explore the diasporan identity that resulted - the pull of belonging to both Armenia and the United States and the legacy of the genocide on her own identity.  "Two Voices" is one of those poems and includes this series of questions:

...do I think of my grandmother
at Ellis Island,

or as an orphan in an Armenian village?

Or at a black stove in Worcester...

This year, we honor the commemoration by sharing student poetry written in response to Diana's poem which highlights the connections students made to that pull of multiple identities.  These come to us from Sasha Guzman at Social Justice Humanitas Academy. In respect for student identities, we present both without the author names.

We hope this reminder to find common experiences in the human condition can both build compassion and curiosity in honoring and learning about the histories of others.

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Topics: Armenian Genocide, Student Work

Spring Student Opportunities

Posted by Mary Hendra on March 8, 2016

There are a lot of student opportunities at this time of year which could be engaging for students in a Facing History classroom. Here are a few that have come our way. Have you heard of others? Post them below to share with other teachers!

As part of Facing History and Ourselves’ second annual Facing History Together Student Essay Contest, “Student Voices: To Kill a Mockingbird in Today’s World,” middle and high school students across the U.S. have the opportunity to win individual and classroom prizes up to $2,500.  

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Topics: Choosing to Participate, Los Angeles, Student Work, Upstander

Being an Upstander Today

Posted by Mary Hendra on August 26, 2015

This month Facing History and Ourselves is the featured partner on Connected Learning TV for the series, Creating Upstanders in Today’s World. We are publishing the recorded webinars here with additional resources.

What does it mean to be civically engaged today?

Our final webinar in the series gave us the opportunity to look at what student upstanding looks like today, and I was struck by the small steps and mindsets that demonstrate student engagement.

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Topics: Choosing to Participate, CLTV, Student Work, Upstander


Posted by Mary Hendra on April 28, 2015

Each year, we ask Facing History Partnership Schools in Los Angeles to identify those members of their community who have become 'upstanders' - the individuals and groups who shape their community by speaking up on behalf of others and standing up to injustice small or large. On Thursday, we will celebrate our 2015 Upstanders and we are proud to share their stories as inspiration for us all.

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Topics: Student Work, Upstander, Community Event

Student Agency, Student Voice, and the Maker Movement

Posted by Mary Hendra on October 23, 2014

As October is Connected Educator Month, we are pleased to announce our partnership with Educator Innovator! Educator Innovator, powered by the National Writing Project, provides an online "meet-up" for educators who are re-imagining learning. Educator Innovator is both a blog and a growing community of educators, partners and supporters. We know we're with the right partner, because in this month focused on "Connected Education," the theme chosen by Educator Innovator as its key focus is:

Student Agency, Student Voice, and the Maker Movement

"Powerful learning occurs when youth, driven by their own interests, are supported in being creators and not just consumers of knowledge." We agree. And, it makes me think of the story behind a young group of "makers" we worked with several years ago.

I love the project, too, but the story behind it is so special to me!

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Topics: Choosing to Participate, Bullying, Student Work, Upstander, Using Technology, Tech Innovation

Student Voice: Chronicling the Life of a Holocaust Survivor

Posted by Guest Blogger on August 8, 2014

This month we have a special treat: Student Justin Muchnick shares his summer project chronicling the life of a Holocaust survivor. All of us who have had the privilege of meeting a survivor in person know the powerful impact of that experience. Justin’s evolving relationship with survivor Ziggy Silbert has spanned several years, and we look forward to hearing and publishing more of his thoughts in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we share this introduction and invite you to share below a lesson you learned from hearing a survivor speak.

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Topics: Holocaust and Human Behavior, Student Work, Alumni

One City, Many Stories

Posted by Stephanie Carrillo on August 2, 2014

Los Angeles is a city with quite a reputation. Depending on whom you ask, L.A. is the land of perpetual sunshine and carefree living or a concrete jungle of congested freeways and unrelenting smog. From the outside, people may be tempted to view Los Angeles as a monolith, however most Angelenos know better.

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Topics: Choosing to Participate, Los Angeles, Student Work, Social and Emotional Learning, A View from the Classroom

Appreciating the Legacy of a Teacher

Posted by Mary Hendra on November 27, 2013

We know, when we go into teaching, that the consequences of our work may not be entirely appreciated in the moment, that we are "planting seeds" as a teacher of mine told me when I was becoming a teacher. Yes, there are some days when we leave the classroom KNOWING that we made a difference. We saw the light bulb go on. We heard or watched as a student responded in a new way. But honestly, we do not always know the students who will be truly moved by our work or who will come back years later to tell us how the seed we planted eventually blossomed.

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Topics: Student Work, Judgement and Legacy, A View from the Classroom

How a Chalkboard Became a Bridge

Posted by Stephanie Carrillo on October 23, 2013

For 15 years I taught a Cultural Diversity class at Crossroads School. It was part of the 12th grade history elective requirement under the category of "History, Society, and Ethics" and it was for all intents and purposes, my "Facing History Classroom." Students selected this elective to delve deeply into the history and present-day state of multiculturalism, equity and inclusion in the U.S. With so many other elective offerings, however, my class was often small- some years only 12 students were in enrolled. I always began with a student-created "code of conduct" for the class and two-weeks worth of identity activities which laid the foundation for a classroom dynamic built on trust, respect, and open communication.

Two years ago, my 12th grade students were so inspired by the richness and depth of the discussions they had in class, they often remarked, "It's too bad there's so few of us in here! Other kids should be talking about the topics we discuss. More people need to be in on this conversation!" After hearing that refrain so often from the kids, I suggested we brainstorm how to widen the conversation in a way that wouldn't require that person's physical presence in our class.

What my creative students eventually came up with was this- a low tech, no tech "old school" blog. "Big Paper" if you will, for the entire campus. A student in my class who was also in technical theater constructed a large chalk board by stretching canvas over a wooden frame and painting it with several coats of chalkboard paint. Using nothing more than a paper cup and duct tape, we made a holder on the board for accompanying sticks of colorful sidewalk chalk. Once the board was complete, project "chalk talk" began!

Each day in class, which conveniently met first period, the students devised a new "question" and wrote it at the top of the board. Approximately 10 minutes into class, when the coast was clear, the students transported the board to a different location on campus every day. The buzz was immediate. Where had the chalk board come from? Was it some kind of prank? Could they really write on it? Who was asking the questions?

The Cultural Diversity class and I agreed that the student body would have to warm up to using the chalk board and that we couldn't engage them with thought-provoking questions right away. On the first two days, the question was simply, "Who are you?' This was the perfect opening hook, after all, what kid wouldn't want to write their name on a big public board in colorful chalk? The idea, of course, was to get people used to the idea of searching out the chalk board (moving it's location daily kept things "fresh") and interacting with it. A few of my colleagues were skeptical at first ("Aren't you just promoting graffiti? Aren't you going to be replacing stolen chalk every day?") but by the end of the week, things changed. Our follow-up question to "Who are you?" was "What are you?" Responses such as, "Handsome" "Bored" and "Confused by this chalk board!" shared space with truly thought-provoking answers such as "Asian and PROUD of it!" "The ONLY black kid in my grade" and "Adopted." After that, the Cultural Diversity class knew they could generate conversations with project Chalk Talk.

Despite concerns that other adults raised at the outset of my student's project, the chalk board was never vandalized, covered with inappropriate responses, or stolen. Chalk didn't even disappear in large quantities. Somehow, the public nature of the board kept things in check. The responses, though written in public, were oddly private as no one ever signed their name. Students gave authentic answers because they were hungry to talk about things no one ever asked them about, such as

  • What does inequality look like?
  • We REALLY need to start talking about...
  • This school didn't teach me...
  • In a perfect world...
  • I'm afraid that...
  • I wish people would stop saying...
  • What is your stereotype?

Because the chalk board was completely student generated it had a level of credibility and respect that no teacher-manufactured project would have earned. The fact that students created and transported it daily with their own hands and wrote the questions from their hearts meant something to the student body and they treated it with respect.

When did I know the board was a success?

...When I heard students in my other classes talking about it.

...When I saw kids crowded around the board to write their answers and read what others had written.

...When students began to write arrows and comments to respond to things other students had posted.

...When my administrator actually came to me and said, "Where's this chalk board I keep hearing about?"

...When teachers began asking me, "Can we write on it too?" and "What if the teachers started their own chalkboard in the lounge, could we do that?"

As the weeks went on it became clear to my class that they had done more than construct a chalkboard, they'd built a bridge. Although the chalk board had the physical properties of a "transportable wall," in reality, it served as a window into other people's thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears. The chalkboard started conversations and connected people who might not otherwise communicate with each other. Although others had doubted the success of such a project at first, in reality people deeply desire to be asked thoughtful questions and want to be heard. The chalkboard gave the student's unheard voices both a space and a place.

How do you start meaningful conversations on your campus? What opportunities can we provide for both students and adults to connect on a deeper level? When did you know you had created an environment for safe and authentic communication?

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Topics: Choosing to Participate, Safe Schools, Student Work, A View from the Classroom

Using Art to Face History and Ourselves

Posted by Mary Hendra on June 26, 2013

I am an artist at heart, though that part of my identity is usually restricted to my non-work hours. On Friday, however, I got to learn and practice art with individuals who do art professionally through teaching and their own work. What a spectacular day!

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Topics: Critical Thinking, workshop, Student Work

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This blog helps Southern California teachers connect directly with each other, share ideas, and learn about new resources and opportunities for those interested in or already implementing Facing History.

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