Morgan Hill – Students in Cristin Reichmuth’s sixth-grade class at the Charter School of Morgan Hill are talking and writing about social injustices such as child labor, tyranny and genocide.
Writing the papers and learning to correctly refer to the resources they used was an important part of the assignment, but perhaps not as important as the development of their social consciousness.
“Children working in illegal jobs is one of the worst crimes,” wrote Logan Mosher, 11. “Children working for eight hours or more are being paid way below the minimum wage. Another thing that is happening is that they are being separated from their parents. Imagine if as a child you never get to see your parents. Also the children are working in unhealthy environments. The kids ages are from 3 to 14.”
Charter School Principal Paige Cisewski is proud of the students and their teacher.
“I was struck by the insightfulness of their work, it was just amazing to me,” she said.
Though they wrote about painful topics, students did not avoid the grim facts.
“They are trapped with their worst enemy having their villages bombed and burned everyday,” wrote Katie Georgi, 11. “As long as they are in Sudan, they are unsafe. There are some children that walk all night and sleep during the day so that no one will kill them when they rest on their long journey out of Sudan. That is why people call them the sleepless children. These people have no rights and it is truly sad.”
Cisewski said the school curriculum focuses on project-based learning, a hands-on approach, and students are encouraged to bring their own ideas into the classroom.
“Very often, projects like these arise out of student interest, what they are talking about, what they are reading about,” she said. “I think it’s important to encourage these kinds of discussions.”
While the students focused on the facts, they also shared opinions in their writings. Sometimes they offered their own observations about the problem nationally or globally.
“(Genocide in Darfu) has been occurring for a very long time,” Danny Burnham, 11, wrote. “It started February 2003. Now it is spreading to the countries of Chad and the Central African Republic. If those two countries fall into chaos and civil war, then war may spread to neighboring countries of Cameroon and Niger. This might be affecting the world now. Africa is a very poor continent, so people have not been paying attention. Now we are paying attention, because the killing and activity has gotten a lot worse. Maybe someday this will not be happening at all.”
Students were surprised by what they learned through their research, but were glad they had written the papers.
“The average pay in Cuba is $20 per month,” wrote Vincent Czeropski, 11. “They have no freedom of speech and right to choose a religion. Everything must be said and done the way Castro wants. Cubans are not allowed to leave the country, however, many thousands risk their life each year trying to do so. They must stay within the borders of Cuba and deal with unfair laws. The citizens have their food rationed and can only have a certain amount per month. If they protest or do not follow these laws, they will be sent to jail or killed as political opponents.”
Reichmuth hopes to help students develop critical-thinking skills as well as basic writing skills. In a class discussion to help generate ideas for a persuasive essay on immigration, she asks provocative questions, posting student comments on a large easel everyone can see, dividing the sheet into pros and cons. Students shared ideas for “fixing” any potential problems that other classmates listed as cons.
The next step, she said, is for the students to learn debate skills to argue their essay. Two Bellarmine College Prep debate team students will be working with the class to share their skills.
Marilyn Dubil covers education and law enforcement for The Times. Reach her at (408) 779-4106 ext. 202 or at [email protected]