First Graders Study Civil Rights, Create Biographies
Grace Thompson
Students in first grade dug into the Civil Rights Era, learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges before researching and writing a biography on a current or historical BIPOC figure. The goal: to learn about contributions of people of color to American history and culture while building inquiry, reading, writing, synthesis and math skills.

“This work is a part of a larger emphasis on noticing and discussing diversity in an effort to celebrate how we are unique. It builds a strength-based perspective and inclusivity of those who may have different physical characteristics, neurodiversity, backgrounds and beliefs,” said first grade teacher Carrie Hallensleben.

Carrie added that this is her 14th year teaching this unit on the Civil Rights Era. Students explore character traits of King, Parks and Bridges, and then write a journal entry from the perspective of Bridges.

“The big ideas are that regular people can make a difference in the world and when people come together working toward the same goals, much can be accomplished. All of us can work for fairness, justice and stand up for others,” she said.

Students work for several months on the project, reading books, watching video clips and participating in discussions and presentations from those in the community. Topics explored include religion, race, ethnicity, languages spoken, economic disparity, gender and stereotypes.

At the end of the unit, students created a visual presentation about the historical figure they researched, including drawings and pictures. The first graders then present to and teach their classmates about that person and what they learned.

This year’s biographies included Serena Williams, Barack Obama, Bessie Coleman and Harriet Tubman.

“The past two years have really been interesting because more people are open to talking about race in our country. Parents have commented on how deeply their young children can contribute to thoughtful discussions on current events and social justice.”