LEARNING THE VALUE OF COURAGE, EMPATHY & DIVERSITY
History and Social Studies in the Hebron Academy Middle School
Students in the Hebron Academy Middle School’s sixth and seventh grade got a new history teacher this year. Meredith Hanby, herself a graduate of the school (Class of 1995) brings a fresh and rigorous curriculum to the Middle School. On any given day, tucked in the corner on the third floor of Hebron’s Sturtevant Hall, you will find a group of Middle School students deep in discussion or avidly researching a topic for a discussion another day. Students are immersed in historical periods, experiencing them through direct and in-depth conversations about them. It is a classroom environment that allows young scholars to learn through a curriculum of empathy that not only cultivates powerful understanding, but builds essential academic skills as well.
“As their teacher, I am compelled to talk about these elements, to give them time and space to speak freely and try to comprehend why these things happen. Students are encouraged to ask critical questions of our world as well as pose solutions,” Hanby shares. She has broken the school year into three units, each focusing on powerful moments in history that have lead to seismic humanitarian changes on a global scale. The first unit looked at man’s ability to tolerate diversity by focusing on the impact of the Exploration Age. It then culminated in a mock trial of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish royal court to determine the level of guilt and involvement they had in the eradication and ultimate genocide of tribes of indigenous people of the Americas.
For the Winter Term, Hanby drew the students into discussions of non-violent vs. violent protest by having them learn of Nelson Mandela’s evolution from radical and violent activist to world-renowned leader of peace and a nonviolent, patient agent of change. The content of this unit, and subsequent conversations built around it, permits multiple opportunities to work on productive research skills, persuasive writing and speaking to an audience.
The last unit is perhaps the most powerful, taking students to new levels of personal engagement with history by digging into the stories of the Holocaust and World War II. They were assigned to research the personal stories of Holocaust victims: Jews and other “Undesirables.” They then hosted a “Holocaust Remembrance” ceremony for the school and parents, in which they each spoke on behalf of or as the actual victims and survivors and shared pieces of their stories – all of which were interwoven with the overarching themes of courage, empathy and diversity.
“Ultimately, I wanted the kids to realize that you do not have to be a political leader or a rich person to enact change and stand up for what is right,” said Hanby. Her drive to engage students in the history and to make it something real for them to feel and discuss, leads to a better understanding.