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.