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Grade 8: Virtual Civil Rights Trip and Youth Purpose Summit

For many years, class trips have been a staple in Graland Country Day School's curriculum. Excursions such as the Civil Rights Trip in Grade 8 bring education to life, allowing students to investigate some of the most complex, timely, and impactful issues that our country faces. While the trip to the South could not take place in person, the lessons learned from this experience are an essential part of a Graland education. 
According to Associate Director of Programs Nanette Newman, "As educators, we believe that teaching students about topics such as civil rights prepares them to be engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders." For this reason, in 2021, the Grade 8 team needed to find a way to bring the lessons, opportunities, and experiences of the Civil Rights Trip into their classrooms. 

Ultimately, a partnership with the World Leadership School was formed, which led to the student’s participation in a virtual Civil Rights Immersion Trip and in the 2021 Youth Purpose Summit before the immersion began. 

Youth Purpose Summit 2021

The Youth Purpose Summit was a two-day journey that provided eighth graders the opportunity to gain greater insight into who they are and what they value. During this time, students were also able to explore research on the science of purpose, hear from Graland alumni Olivia Cohen ‘16, Belen Pizarro ‘19, and Caleb Cunningham ‘07 on how to live purpose-driven lives, and create a life map to illustrate their past experiences and future goals. 

According to eighth grader Asher H., "The Youth Purpose Summit helps students become the new generation of leaders in the world. I identified that my purpose in life is to help people in order to make the world a better place. I chose that for my purpose statement because one of my main values is to make sure that everyone gets what they need." 

Other students, such as eighth graders Maggie F., Aaron M., and Eliza C., were eager to share what they learned from the summit as well. 

"When I think of the Youth Purpose Summit, I now think of helping kids become leaders through finding their purpose. My purpose is to find the positives in life to help other people find theirs," Maggie said. 

"During the Youth Purpose Summit, I discovered that my purpose is to serve and work hard for my community through love and kindness. That's really important to me because the community has given a lot to me, and I want to pay them back," Aaron said. 

"I learned how to become more aware of my strengths during the Youth Purpose Summit," Eliza said. "I identified that my purpose is to create structure so that I and others around me can succeed. Exercises like the life map allowed me to reflect on moments that stood out from my past. I wrote down times that were a turning point in my life and the emotions that I felt as well as how it changed me."

Participating in the summit before the virtual Civil Rights Immersion Trip ultimately made the experience more impactful for the students long-term. By first providing students with the space to identify their passions, they could better relate to the topics and take action during the virtual immersion sessions.  

Virtual Civil Rights Immersion Trip 

Research shows that brief, immersive interventions can positively impact students by enabling them to take action for the greater good. For this reason, students virtually traveled to the South to dive deep into topics related to civil rights. 

Based on their interests and personal action goals identified in the prior week's Youth Purpose Summit, students chose one of four tracks to explore during the immersive week. Each of the themed tracks consisted of a thought-provoking driving question to explore throughout their "journey," engaging virtual guest speakers, such as civil rights leaders, and the opportunity to create a reflection project based on what they learned during the week. 

The four immersion groups were: Non-Violence and Civil Unrest Meet Social Justice, The Relationship Between the Arts and Civil Rights, Unheard Voices, and Women from Today Learning from Women of Yesterday. 

Non-Violence and Civil Unrest Meet Social Justice

Driving Question - How can we acquire a deeper understanding of non-violence and civil unrest in our nation's history to promote inclusivity and justice in our school community and beyond?

During this experience, students were asked to think critically about systemic oppression through the lens of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Malcolm X. Students were able to unpack the experiences of the violent traumas in 2020 to dissect what needs to occur for healing and restoration across the nation.

The Relationship Between the Arts and Civil Rights

Driving Question - As we consider the art of the civil rights movement, what issues are still present, and what new observations are being examined? How might we create impactful art that builds on past bodies of work while exploring new content and forms?

In this immersion, students used their knowledge of the civil rights movement to analyze music, literature, photography, and paintings. They interpreted the meaning behind words and brush strokes, all to move towards an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art, born from the same struggle.

Unheard Voices

Driving Question - How might we reconcile the tension between those voices that were instrumental in the founding of this nation and the historically silenced voices that are coming to the forefront now?

This immersion group unpacked the different ways that policies and laws were created by our national government to benefit some and oppress others. Students researched how marginalized groups worked to overcome systemic exclusion and oppression and explored ways that they can contribute to those positive impacts as engaged citizens. 

Women from Today Learning from Women of Yesterday

Driving Question - How can comparing the women's rights movement to the civil rights movement frame our understanding of the progress that has been made in women's rights and the work that still lies ahead?

In this immersion, students learned that civil rights apply both to race and gender. They also examined the history of the fight for women's rights in this country and explored today's culture and policies to determine steps that must still be taken to achieve equality. 

Ultimately, the virtual Civil Rights Immersion Trip allowed students to reflect on the work done by previous generations who fought for the rights of the marginalized and the rights for all, which we benefit from every day. 

Grade 8 Reflections 

After participating in the immersion, several Grade 8 students shared how the experience had impacted them:

"In my group, we got to meet civil rights activist JoAnne Bland on Zoom, and she told us her story about crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. I just watched the Selma movie last week, so it was interesting to see the movie and then hear her real-life experience." - Sophia J. 

"After participating in the immersion, I think it's even more important that we help each other find our voices because you can't do it alone. Experiences like this give us a purpose to learn and make us want to come to school. It also makes us want to care for others." - Reese C. 

"During the immersion trip, I learned about people we haven't heard about in history before that have contributed to significant inventions. For my deliverable, I was inspired to write about unknown inventors. Some of their creations help us in our day-to-day life, and people should know what they did instead of having them erased from history." - Kash A. 

"This experience opened my eyes to people who didn't have the chance to speak out or weren't seen. It's important to learn about this because now that I know, it's almost as if I can use my voice to speak up for them." - Dalila G. 

"I joined the non-violence and civil unrest immersion group because non-violence is a way to get what you want for a good cause or something meaningful. Through the virtual immersion trip, I learned more about non-violence and the right way to execute it. When you protest using non-violence, you can protect people from getting hurt." - Arjun B.


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.