A bilingual Spanish book, skin tone colored crayons and guided discovery were all part of a collaborative lesson with students in Mrs. Christine Musante’s kindergarten class at Pomperaug Elementary School (PES) and Dr. Erin Birden, Teacher in Residence for Diversity and Cultural Competency.
The kindergarteners shared in a discussion about why they think people have different skin colors and then engaged in an interactive reading of the bilingual book, All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color, by Kate Kissinger, illustrated by Chris Bohnhoff.
The kindergarteners inspected their own skin and were asked why they think everyone has different skin colors, and where skin color comes from. Students made observations about and described their own skin, as well as shared their ideas and theories. “Because they (skin colors) are different, because we can all be different,” said one kindergartener, and “They are different in different families,” said a different student.
Learning that skin colors come from your ancestors, melanin, and the sun, the students were introduced to skin-toned colored crayons in a variety of shades and identified the crayons that best matched their skin tone. Students read the names of the multicultural crayons and also had the opportunity to describe the color of their skin tone in their own words.They then had the opportunity to make a classroom palette of colors by comparing shades of crayons to other class members’ skin tones.
“The lesson is designed to be an age-appropriate opportunity for our students to demonstrate awareness of their own skin tone and also to express both comfort and joy in the diversity of others’ skin tones,” said Dr. Birden.
“It is an opportunity for our students to see themselves in our classrooms and to develop a healthy identity while directly fostering an awareness and celebration of all skin tones,” she continued.
Further opportunities to explore the book included a video read aloud of the bilingual text in Spanish with Yamira Raimundi, a parent in Region 15 and administrative assistant Pomperaug High School. The lesson will be shared with other kindergarten classrooms across the district. This lesson is one example of the ongoing work in Region 15, for even the youngest students, to actively participate in fostering welcoming and inclusive schools.
Students in Lori McGovern’s third grade class at Long Meadow Elementary School (LMES) in Middlebury recently participated in a collaborative lesson with Dr. Erin Birden, Teacher in Residence for Diversity and Cultural Competency in Region 15, sharing in an engaging and interactive reading of the book, “Your Name is a Song,” by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, and illustrated by Luisa Uribe.
“Names are a central part of who we are, and carry a story. The story of our name is one window into examining who we are and who those around us are. They can carry a story of the past, can be attached to something or someone, or can be a gift created and given to us,” shared Dr. Birden, citing Sara K. Ahmed's work on lessons that teach social comprehension. The lesson has been taught in multiple classes across the district.
“Celebrating our students’ names and the stories behind them teaches our students the important skills of asking about, honoring and understanding the importance of names to others. Not all names are in our personal repertoire, as names can be culturally, religiously, ancestrally, historically, or inventively situated, ” she continued.
To prepare for the lesson, families were asked to have conversations with their children about their name so they could engage in conversations with their classmates. Students practiced the skills and language around advocating for correct pronunciation of their names as well as others’ names, and making it a priority to get names right. Following conversations with their classmates, students published their names beautifully on placards, some complete with pronunciation guides, and pictures that represent their names.
On one page of the read aloud text, the name Kwaku is included, which is of Akan/Ghanian origin and means born on a Wednesday. When the students read this part of the book, classmate Daniel Dwomoh exclaimed, “I know what that name means! It means born on a Wednesday. It is similar to one part of my name, Kojo, which is Ghanian as well and means born on a Monday.”
Sharing this information together provides a bridge between families and schools and amongst classmates. It directly ties into Region 15’s ongoing efforts to promote students’ strong and positive sense of self and aligns with social justice standards of identity and diversity within a developmentally appropriate approach.
“The position of Teacher in Residence for Diversity and Cultural Competency in Region 15 and the work Erin is doing with staff and students are examples of the Region's commitment to welcoming and inclusive schools,” said Dr. Carrie Chiappetta, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning in Region 15. Dr. Birden’s role is designed to build both staff and student capacity, and is rooted in the work of equity and inclusion within the Region 15 curriculum to benefit the community. Similar lessons will be prepared across the district.