Monthly Archives: January 2013

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31 01, 2013


By |2018-12-17T11:37:45-06:00January 31st, 2013|Diversity and Social Justice|2 Comments

An Ancona parent shared this story with me last week (names changed).

Kindergartner: Mommy, if I go to a movie, where do I have to sit?
Mom: You can sit anywhere you want.
Kindergartner: I don’t have to sit in the back?
Mom: (who knew that the class had been talking about Dr. King) No, you can sit anywhere you want because of the work of Dr. King and others.
Kindergartner: Good, because I want to sit with Asha and Susie. I’d be very sad if I couldn’t sit with my friends.

I love this dialogue, because it teaches us so much about how our young kindergartner is learning in just a few sentences. We don’t need a paper and pencil test to recognize that she has understood something essential from the lessons her teachers taught about the Civil Rights Movement as they prepared for Dr. King’s birthday. Preprimary teacher Ellen Cole read aloud books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges. The children listened to a beautiful picture book about the Preamble to the Constitution and talked about the meaning of rights. Then, the kindergartners reenacted the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Lasting learning occurs when the brain makes an emotional connection to the content. Reenactment serves just that purpose, and of course, every story was accompanied by rich conversation that invited the children to “find the power in their own voices.”*

We see the power of the lesson, because it percolated long after class was over. Our kindergartner generalized from the stories of segregation and thought about how they might apply in a wholly new context – her own life. Five-year-olds don’t have a very well-developed sense of time or history, so she sorted out whether the story she had learned is true now. We can see that she’s developing some of the skills we refer to when we talk about critical thinking or say that she’s making connections. We can see that she has budding constructs of race. She realized that segregation would mean separation specifically from the biracial and white friends she has at Ancona. In this way, children make meaning from their school experiences and apply the lessons of history to their own lives.

Preprimary teacher Ellen Cole has been working to give young children a language of justice and rights for more than 20 years. Ellen, together with Art Teacher Angela Ford, is among the Ancona teachers who will share their work at 50 Years of Diversity, our 50th Anniversary Symposium, on Saturday, March 2nd. You can find more information about the Symposium at

*from Ancona’s mission

18 01, 2013


By |2018-12-17T11:37:46-06:00January 18th, 2013|Diversity and Social Justice, Multicultural Curriculum|3 Comments

Talk about genius!  We celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Peace and Justice Day with an amazing 3rd/4th grade performance of an original play about the Birmingham Campaign this morning.  It made me incredibly proud.

Birmingham 1

Children’s Crusaders hosed by the police.

50 years ago,  Dr. King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took on the oppressive racial segregation of Birmingham, Alabama, with a boycott, protests, sit-ins and ultimately, a Children’s Crusade of college, high school and elementary students who marched for justice, facing jail, water hoses and even dogs in a courageous display of nonviolent direct action.   The protest was a game-changer, as the entire country witnessed the unconscionable brutality of segregation, and the push for the 1964 Civil Rights Act picked up steam.

Birmingham 5

Children’s Crusaders taken to jail on school buses.

3rd/4th grade teacher Janet Gray McKennis brought this story to life with an original script based on primary source material.  Like many Ancona teachers, Janet combines a passion for activism and social justice with a commitment to meaningful learning.  For many years now, she has written a unique play highlighting a particular aspect of Dr. King’s life and work for our annual assembly.  Her teammates Rebecca Kotler, Scott Roberts and Bert Rice add direction, staging, scenery and technical expertise.  Mr. Baldwin leads protest music from the period, and many others pitch in to make it a success.

It’s a terrific piece of integrated curriculum.  Throughout the weeks of preparation, students grapple with the difficult issues of segregation and injustice while, at the same time, learning the lessons of courage, nonviolence and the strength of groups to make change.  They  draw lessons about bullying and discrimination that are relevant for their own lives.  Reading, writing and vocabulary work are all related to the history project.

Birmingham 2

Singing We Shall Overcome

The entire audience of several hundred was visibly moved this morning, and when we got to We Shall Overcome at the end, I found it unusually resonant.  I could not help but reflect on the difference between Birmingham in 1963 and the Ancona parents, who, in that very same year, responded to the Civil Rights movement by founding an interracial school.  Diversity, justice, activism — they are in our bones.

We’re going to look at Ancona’s 50 Years of Diversity at a Symposium on Saturday, March 2.   An exciting panel of educators plus a number of Ancona’s own teachers, parents and alumni will be speaking and conducting workshops.  Plan to join us!

17 01, 2013

Sweet Gift

By |2018-12-17T11:37:47-06:00January 17th, 2013|Love of Learning|0 Comments

Every now and then, the cosmos sends an unexpected gift one’s way.  Just such a gift arrived in my inbox this week in the form of a completely unsolicited letter from Jacob Yanowski, Class of 2003.

At Ancona, we’re working every day to develop children’s love of learning, their problem-solving abilities and their sense of their own agency.  Such capacities don’t develop overnight; they unfold over years.   But the public din of test scores, racing to the top and teacher accountability can make it easy to lose sight of the true purposes of education.  So it is the sweetest gift of all when one of our alumni offers his own testimony to the power of an Ancona education and affirms our most fundamental commitments to children.

By the time of his Ancona graduation, Jacob had learned well that he was responsible for his own education.  He very much wanted to attend Jones Prep High School, and when his test scores left him a few points shy of admission, he took matters into his own hands.  Jacob put together a portfolio of his work, made an appointment with the principal and got himself admitted, thereby transforming an arbitrary system into a personal one.   Once at Jones, he and fellow Ancona graduate Kenneth Males looked around for the film club.  Finding none, they went to the administration, made their case for the club and led it until they graduated.  Ancona teachers nurture this kind of leadership and initiative  every day.   Both young men have gone on to become filmmakers.  Here’s Jacob’s letter:

Hi Bonnie,

How are you?  How are things at Ancona?  

It has been a while since I graduated, but a week hasn’t gone by that Ancona hasn’t popped into my head.  I can’t tell you the countless times I studied something in University, heard something said, and figured something out that Ancona already gave me when I was a kid.  I could go on forever about how Ancona taught me to be organized (which is absolutely true) or how Ancona taught me how to make friends (which is visible when I see that I am still friends with people from Ancona).  But what I can’t explain to most people and what I cherish most in myself is that Ancona encouraged and trained my enjoyment of learning.  Throughout high school, university, and now the professional world, I have never stopped having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, for deciphering the unknown and learning about every corner of the Earth.  I thank Ancona and all it’s wonderful people for that.

I’m working in Toronto now, at a documentary film production company — and yes, even that infatuation and hobby was nurtured to no end by Ancona.  But what is more important, and really the impetus of this letter, is that two weeks ago I was at a massive art exhibit of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Toronto.  As I studied each painting, it struck me that I knew about these fabulous artists when I was six years old! Christiane taught us about these Mexican masters even before I knew my times tables.  I’m so proud of the fact that I knew about these wonderful artists at such a young age.  Like the million other things I learned at Ancona, I get to carry them with me wherever I go.  What an educational experience.

So thank you, to you and your wonderful staff, teachers and all the people and names I will never forget.

All the best,

Jacob Yanowski

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