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School Stories

Inspired to Innovate: Creative Lessons in a Traditional Space

When people think about innovation in education, they often think about STEAM -- using science, technology, engineering, the arts and math as access points in education. English, the most traditional of all the subjects, often gets left behind. 
This year, a partnership between Graland and the African Community Center (ACC) provided a unique opportunity to innovate more creatively in my classroom and to offer students a meaningful pathway to learning. 

Pilot Program Takes Off 
ACC is Denver’s largest refugee resettlement agency. In the past 18 months, they have hosted their fundraising gala at Graland in addition to providing speakers for our third-grade social studies curriculum about naturalization. Seeking more opportunities for high schoolers at ACC to develop leadership skills, we hit upon a win-win solution for both organizations. The original idea was to have the young people at ACC verbally share their journey of how they landed in Denver while fifth graders documented their stories in a written format. Developmentally, fifth graders are at a sweet spot to consider the perspectives of other people, and storytelling is an ideal avenue through which to do it. 
 
Soon realizing that the students connected in a stronger and deeper way than anticipated, we refocused the program to encourage mutual sharing of each other’s life stories, experiences and backgrounds. Graland students brought artifacts from their families; Avery Anderson (5) shared her great-grandfather’s naturalization certificate from the 1830s as well as her great-grandmother’s ticket for the boat she took from Sweden to America around the same time. 

Impact on Students and Families 
Gavin Weber (5) said he initially got involved because he’s interested in immigration and sharing stories with others who are different from him. Grace Lohr (5) reflected and said, “I think it was really interesting to hear about different backgrounds and cultures. I learned about my ACC partner’s early childhood in Somalia from her art that she shared with me.” Fifth grade parents also shared their appreciation for the way this voluntary pilot program allowed their children to gain a new perspective on the diversity of every person’s life journey. 

When considering feedback from the program, next year I hope students can meet more often to develop relationships with their ACC partners. Head of School Josh Cobb spoke recently about bravery in a letter to teachers, writing that, “Every unit, every lesson, every choice is open to judgment. You are under the spotlight. In the midst of this increased scrutiny, what inspires your resolution?” I am excited and empowered to find original ways to build community connections which pair nicely with curriculum content, whether in a small pilot project or in more direct ways. 
 
Kimm has taught English at Graland since 2010 and has grown her role to include serving on the English department committee, participating in the diversity and equity cohort (2016-17) and leading a parent/student book club. In college, she worked at an orphanage in Zimbabwe while studying abroad. 
 
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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.