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Carrboro Elementary Fifth Graders Write Books about Suffragettes and Abolitionists

Fifth grade students at Carrboro Elementary School have spent weeks studying the changing roles of women and people of color in American society, from early days through the Reconstruction era. In a social justice-focused unit, the students’ culminating project has been writing their own books on either the suffrage or abolition movements. On Monday afternoon, February 11, each fifth grade student took a turn reading those books to small groups of third grade guests, and then taking questions from their audience.

CES 5th grader reads own book In fifth grade teacher Shelby Dotson’s classroom, her student readers listened to a few read-aloud pointers, before their third grade guests arrived. “We’re in presenter mode now,” Dotson told them. “You’ve worked really hard on this, and now it’s all about you having your moment.” The books contained detailed, often vibrant illustrations, as well as tables of content and clear summaries of the movements.

Dotson explained, “We do an arc of lessons on slavery in the U.S. We discuss life of an enslaved person and read primary sources to gain perspective.” The presenters reflected that breadth of knowledge as they read their books, but perhaps even more, as they took questions from the attentive third grade students.

They had discussed the Underground Railroad with personal accounts, including those written by runaway slaves. They studied specific people that contributed to the Abolitionist Movement and the importance of the 13th, 14th, and 15 Amendments.  As they deepened their understanding of social and political freedom, they also discussed the beginnings, goals, and people important to the Suffrage Movement and the importance of the 19th Amendment.

During the reflection period, Dotson asked her students to answer several questions on their learning process, and their main takeaways from the unit. One student wrote, “I think African Americans are so often left out of history because men especially white men were most honored in history because they got rights so much sooner and already had freedom long before woman and African Americans got freedom. Therefore, men’s achievements got passed on a lot longer and had a better chance of their stories being shared. That is why I think that women and African Americans so often get left out of history books, movies, and stories"

CES fifth grade reader “I think they’re left out because people aren't so focused on them,” another student wrote. “They think white people or men should have all the glory because they won the power first. If you keep leaving people out because they’re different, their story can't be told. It all leads to problems that need to change.”

In response to the question, “How can we change this?” one student’s answer was, “We write our own stories, we dig deeper into history. We can also bring other cultures closer to us.”

“I've learned to be more observant and notice others around me,” said one student. “I feel more power when I give others the power, and less when I take it for myself.”

Carrboro Elementary School continues to adapt and extend the curriculum to infuse social justice into integrated content units. That integration addresses one of the core goals of the district Equity Plan, to provide more culturally responsive instruction.