An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Africa in Grade 6

At Brimmer, an interdisciplinary, global approach to learning is a staple of the Middle School and part of the School’s mission of developing “lifelong learners who are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.” This fall, the students in grade 6 are exploring Africa through the lens of several different disciplines.

In History 6, students are examining Africa both in the past and today. After an exploration of Africa’s geography, students explored the beginnings of African civilizations, including the empire of Ghana. Students are now being tasked with selecting a country on the continent and creating a travel brochure for that country. In Science, students will be exploring the wildlife that exists in their country and choosing one animal to research. They will then create a detailed fact sheet about the species. This work in History and Science will be presented at an exhibition on Friday, October 19 at 9:15a.m. in the Innovation Space.

Students are also exploring Africa in all of their Creative Arts classes. In Art, they will be exploring African tribal masks, and each student will construct a unique mask. The project will examine the historical and regional iconography of the mask, and the students will use this information to help construct their interpretation through collage. In Music, students will be learning West African percussion and Kpelle call and response songs. Finally, in Drama, students will be reading several Anansi stories as they explore story structure. Then, through improv and collaborative creation, the class will work in small groups to write adaptations of a story.

Exciting Program and Curricular Changes in the Middle School at Brimmer!

At Brimmer, we are always exploring ways to keep our programs and curriculum exciting and new. I wanted to share some program and curricular changes for the year. This year, every student was given a Middle School planner.  We have embedded the use of these planners into our instruction, and we hope that these tools, in addition to eBackpack, will help students stay organized and take ownership of their responsibilities.

This year, sixth graders will participate in the Max Warburg Courage Curriculum. Max passed away in 1991 at the age of 11 from leukemia. To honor Max’s story and to encourage empathy and other youths to reach their maximum potential and not take anything for granted, Max’s parents, Stephanie and Jonathan Warburg, founded the Max Warburg Courage Curriculum. Stephanie and Jonathan worked with the Boston Public Schools to develop and create the curriculum, written especially for 6th graders. After learning about Max’s story and reading a novel that focuses on courage and empathy, for the culminating activity of the program, each student writes an essay on the topic of “Courage in My Life.” The local students’ essays are entered into a contest, where a panel of judges reads each of the essays. The winning essays are published in an annual essay anthology. We felt in a year with a focus on empathy and ethical thinking, this curriculum would be an excellent addition to the 6th grade humanities, and Mr. Polstein is excited to dive into this new program in the coming weeks.

How will we meet food production challenges as the world population grows? Students will anchor themselves with this question as they delve into the study of plants in 7th grade science with Ms. Shannon.  Working collaboratively, students will design scientific experiments to compare traditional soil gardening to hydroponic gardening. With our new tower gardens purchased through our faculty innovation grant, this unit will literally come to life as they watch the seeds that they plant develop and mature into herbs and vegetables to share with our Brimmer community.

Finally, we are thrilled to announce that Brimmer has partnered with MediaGirls, an organization whose missions is to to teach middle-school girls &  young women to discover their self-worth, and harness the power of media for positive change. Michelle Cove, the founder, will be working with the 8th grade girls this fall for an 8-week curriculum, and the 7th graders will experience it in the spring. We are also entering our second year of 8th grade Innovation Hour, a new course that we created last year that is taught by Mr. Neudel. Students in this course are introduced to the endless possibilities of design, innovation, and creation available to them in our MakerSpace in the Hastings Center.

Teaching Empathy Through The Humanities

Max Warburg was a fairly typical 11 year old boy. He grew up in Boston and loved playing sports, swimming, biking, skiing, and especially sailing. Some of his family’s happiest memories involved being out on the water for hours together. One day while out riding his bike, Max fell, and he ended up in the ER. As it turned out, his life would never be the same. As they treated Max for a split spleen, they discovered that he had leukemia. Surgeries, treatments, and many ups and downs followed. Through his terrible ordeal, Max never gave up hope and tried his best to keep a positive attitude in the face of an awful disease. Although he fought as hard as he could, Max died in his mother’s arms and holding his father’s hand on March 5, 1991. One of his parents friends said at the time “Max amazed me. He was so brave. Children amaze me. I am amazed by the courage of children.”

Max’s determination, courage, and never-ending hope in the face of a terrible disease inspired all who knew him. To honor Max’s story and to encourage empathy and other youths to reach their maximum potential and not take anything for granted, Max’s parents, Stephanie and Jonathan Warburg, founded the Max Warburg Courage Curriculum. Stephanie and Jonathan worked with the Boston Public Schools to develop and create the curriculum, written especially for 6th graders. After learning about Max’s story and reading a novel that focuses on courage and empathy, for the culminating activity of the program, each student writes an essay on the topic of “Courage in My Life.” Though the students’ stories vary widely, the common theme of courage unites them all. The local students’ essays are entered into a contest, where a panel of judges reads each of the essays. The winning essays are published in an annual essay anthology. What started as something that happened only in the Boston Public Schools has spread, and now schools from all over the country and the world participate. And this year, for the first time, so will the 6th graders at Brimmer and May.

At Brimmer, we believe the study of the Humanities, which literally means the study of what it means to be human, is an important avenue to teach empathy. Last week during our opening meetings, Mrs. Guild told the faculty that when you explore literature and stories specifically, you have a key to teaching empathy. And during her keynote address at those meetings, Professor Kay Young, a former Brimmer and May teacher and Professor of Literature at UC Santa Barbara, told us “the basis of empathy is imagining other minds and placing yourself in their place, and, as you do so, reflecting on the meaning of life. It makes it real and tangible, and the study of literature trains our brain to do just that.”

So whether it is writing about courage after hearing Max’s story as our 6th graders will do, or walking in the footsteps of Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank as the 8th grade will do during their study of the Holocaust, or exploring the life of Prior Walter, a man suffering from AIDS in New York City during the height of the epidemic, as the 11th grade did last year when they read Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, our hope is that, through your studies here, you are not only making strides as writers and readers, but also as people. We hope that not only will you be able to analyze the literature, stories, and plays that you read, hear, and see, but that you will also take them to heart; place yourself in someone else’s shoes, and that those stories will be like seeds that will grow within you. Like Kushner, I too believe there are angels in America. I believe Max Warburg was one, and that this theater is full of them right now. Each and everyone of you has the potential to make an impact with kindness and empathy, and be the angel is someone’s life. I hope this year, you will do just that.

Social/Emotional and Wellness Programming in the Middle School

In the coming weeks and months, Middle School students will once again be participating in wellness programs geared to support their social, emotional, and physical well-being. As a school, we know there is much more to a student’s life than just academics. We strive to develop students who will go on to be successful in the world, and we also want to help educate students in areas that will allow them to be prepared to make informed decisions when faced with challenging situations and to reflect on how our actions have ramifications on those around us.

This week, the Middle School will be participating inThe Great Kindness Challenge. Every year, thousands of schools all over the world participate in this week to promote kindness in schools and in our culture. As Aesop said, “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” With this in mind, we are asking students to engage in one act of kindness each day. In addition, we will have special dress days on Thursday and Friday to celebrate this week. Thursday is “Hats Off to Kindness Day” when students can wear their favorite hat, and Friday is “Team Kindness” Day when students can wear apparel from their favorite sports team. On Friday, we will also hold a “Mix It Up” lunch.

This winter we will continue with wellness programming that we began last year in the Middle School. Will Slotnick, from The Wellness Collaborative, will be working with the 7th grade during the week of January 29th,. Mr. Slotnick will work with students through his Wellness-Based Alcohol and Drug Education Program. Students also learn about stress management and mindfulness. He has over twenty-five years of experience in this field, and we are excited to have this expert working closely with our students once again. Mr. Slotnick has worked at several other area independent schools. More information about this programming can be found on his website http://www.wellnesscollaborative.org.

During the week of April 2th, Partners in Sex Education will be working with our 6th and 8th grade students. Partners in Sex Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Greater Boston youth through comprehensive education about sexuality, sexual health, and relationships. The educators have extensive experience in both public and private school settings. The following values are integral to the curriculum: the importance of maintaining one’s health, the right to accurate information, respect for oneself and others, equality for everyone and open communication to ensure learning.

We are looking forward to the upcoming social-emotional and wellness programs, and we believe our students will greatly benefit from this work!