Before heading to Camp Glen Brook for their coming of age trips, eighth grade students last month delved into the history, geography and ecology of Africa for their main lesson block. In addition to learning about the histories, countries and regions of the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent, students also studied African musical traditions, arts and legends.
"My goal was for the students to experience as much as possible of the cultures, peoples, traditions and histories of Africa," said 8th grade class teacher Miss Isabelle Gliksman. "To do this, we read some amazing legends, myths and biographies. The students also worked in groups and put together projects about specific regions where they developed a 7-day trip itinerary and an artistic presentation that was built on an integrated understanding of the regional languages, cultures, foods, peoples and histories of their assigned region."
But the block didn’t end there. In preparation for their study, the students read We Are All the Same by Jim Wootan (Penguin Books, 2005). “The book examined the economics, government and struggles of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa,” said Miss Gliksman, “and set the stage well for middle-school students to learn about this difficult topic. As we read the book, I noticed that the students’ response was that of shock to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and disease.” Afterwards, the class gained a mastery of the statistics related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and an acute awareness of how important it is to be aware of this disease.
"We also spent time studying Nelson Mandela – the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999." To accompany the children’s reading, Miss Gliksman (with assistance from former Lower School Class Teacher Kelly Beekman) made a beautiful chalk drawing of Mr. Mandela in the eighth grade classroom (see picture above).
Mrs. Carol Proctor, Waldorf’s associate director of admissions, presented an in-depth talk about her time growing up and living in South Africa and showed the students numerous photographs of the segregated black and white communities she knew. "Her experiences of living-in and going through the boundaries between those communities were really powerful for the students."
During the block, the class also read A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2012), which tracks the adventures of an eleven-year-old girl who lives in a small village in Mozambique, where she doesn't quite fit in. “When her family tries to force her into marriage,” said Miss Gliksman, “she runs away to Zimbabwe, hoping to find the father she's never met. But what should have been a short boat trip across the border turns into a dangerous year-long adventure, and Nhamo must summon her innermost courage to ensure her survival."
The book engaged the students especially when they welcomed Waldorf parent Mr. Saturnin Epie during the block’s final week. Mr. Epie, who works for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), shared with the students his work developing programs that empower and support the development of the "girl-child" through access to education, lowering maternal mortality by training mid-wives, and assisting school programs. Said Miss Gliksman, “Hearing about his experiences and his travels to over 30 countries in Africa implementing these programs was a wonderful culmination to the block."