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Grade 8: Civil Rights Trip Offers Breadth of Learning

The fall Civil Rights trip is not only a Graland tradition for eighth-graders; it is also a carefully crafted lesson that ties historical facts to human experiences. Beginning the first day of school in August, students became immersed in discussions and activities to prepare them for what they will see and hear and experience on this impactful visit to the American south.
Laying the Groundwork
History class kicks off the year by studying World War II, a unit that gives historical context to the Civil Rights movement. 

“When we start learning about civil rights, we begin by exploring the frustrations that black veterans experienced when they returned from fighting for America in World War II only to be denied the benefits they were promised with the GI Bill,” said Jane Maslanka, history teacher. She adds that frustrated veterans began to find more support among white citizens as post-war Americans became gradually less tolerant of racism in light of the atrocities of the Holocaust. These and other factors added fuel to the fire of decades of black civil rights activism, launching what we think of as the Civil Rights movement in the 60s.

In addition, Graland advisors have worked to create safe spaces where students can unpack their diverse opinions. “We’ve focused on holding civil space when students disagree and how to manage higher-risk conversations in a respectful way,” explained Ms. Maslanka. 

Deep in the South
While traveling, students will carry notebooks and complete assignments following each new experience. For example, after the Legacy Museum in Birmingham, students will partner up to discuss the themes of the exhibits -- enslavement, segregation, terrorism and incarceration. Their notebooks will be used to record their reflections and to answer questions such as “What was surprising, interesting or disturbing about the exhibits?” There is ample time for small group discussions and check-ins to ensure students are processing these heavy topics in a healthy way.

Back in the Classroom
Following their return and two extra days away from school, eighth-graders will reconvene to work on creative projects that memorialize a person, place or event that was significant to the Civil Rights movement. These tangible displays of their immeasurable learning and growth help students demonstrate their knowledge and process their reactions to experiences on the trip.

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.