Diversity and Social Justice

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1 09, 2016

Welcome Back Ancona!

By |2018-12-17T11:32:41-06:00September 1st, 2016|Curriculum Connection, Diversity and Social Justice, Experiential Learning, Genius Of Children, Love of Learning, Parent News|0 Comments

On August 27th I had the pleasure of participating in Ancona’s Farm Raising. From hauling lumber with a three year old, to shoveling soil into garden beds with grown-ups, I had the opportunity to speak with the entire spectrum of the Ancona community. While talking with a new parent at Ancona, I was struck by his enthusiasm and joy for our school. Even when the conversation led into other areas of our lives, he always brought the conversation back to Ancona and what an amazing connection his family felt with our community.

With so much stress in our lives, I am always happy to hear that Ancona brings joy into parent’s lives by providing an excellent education to our students. This education goes beyond the academic and brings the whole world to the classroom. An Ancona education intentionally fosters community, tackles issues of social justice head on, and brings student voice to the forefront of any discussion.  From day one, our teachers are educating our students to bridge the gaps that society has made. Where society separates, Ancona unites. As we start this school year,  I would like to take this opportunity to share how community, social justice and student voice are present at Ancona and why these hallmarks make us shine so brightly in Chicago.

This is a learning environment for children to learn who they are as individuals, who they are as a member of a group, and who we all are as a community. Children call their teachers and administrators by first names. They begin each day with a handshake as they enter the school and over the course of the year this tradition allows them to get to know all of our faculty. Advisors start each morning with a group conversation that establishes a sense of camaraderie that feeds into the learning for the rest of the day. This commitment to the joy and fellowship in learning is seen across the school. A long-time teacher once chided me for wearing a tie because the teachers here must always look ready to get on the floor and play with children on their level. While I’ve come to learn how to incorporate my tie into play, the sentiment from that conversation has stuck with me: educators at Ancona are fully present.

It is through this lens of community that our students understand social justice. Ancona educates children who will defend human rights in the face of a society that seems to revel in dismantling of them. Throughout my time here I have seen students march for equal access to healthy water, participate in reenactment scenes from the civil rights era, and research gun violence statistics. Last year, after researching water access for the Social Justice Data Fair, one of our eighth grade students became passionate about helping with the crisis in Flint, Michigan. With the help of family and friends, he created a campaign to help bring water to families in Flint. Classmates collaborated to design posters, family member drove the water out, and donations were secured from every quarter.  Parents at Ancona marvel at how their children’s learning is so often tied to illuminating greater problems in our society. Our student’s assign their imaginations to contemporary problems and their solutions fill us with admiration and hope.

Both community and social justice at Ancona are grounded in the elevation of student voice. When children choose their own work, they enact their best learning. The dignity of work is a Montessori principle: Children choose their work in a classroom according to what fulfills them. As they grow, they choose a balance of things that help them mature as learners. From engineering sound amplifiers, to building model bridges, to forming government policy recommendations, teachers provide complex sophisticated problems with multiple outcomes and students extend themselves to apply what they know to design solutions. Ancona students are innovators, collaborators, researchers, designers — they are problem solvers, they are “workers,” creating and fulfilling their own vision, then sharing that work and fulfillment with everyone around them.

What we want for our children is what we want for society – to feel supported by a community, to share in the work of equity and engage with life’s puzzles by leading solutions. Ancona is proud to be a space that fosters this hard work and acts as a “third place” — a place between home and work where your family learns and grows together. Thank you for becoming, being or remaining a member of the Ancona School! We are powered by the genius of children. We are powered by you. We can’t wait for this great year ahead!

Ari Frede 

Head of School

2 05, 2013

Moving the World

By |2018-12-17T11:37:45-06:00May 2nd, 2013|Diversity and Social Justice, Experiential Learning, Global Learning|1 Comment

The Ancona School Mexico Trip 2013Our annual 8th grade trip to Mexico is a transformative experience for our students. It is an amazing, multifaceted opportunity for language and cultural immersion, and having accompanied the trip several times, I cannot begin to tell you how gratifying it is to see how well our students handle themselves in challenging environs and to literally watch them mature before our eyes. In this final act of our Spanish program, we see our years of cultivating independence and confident risk-taking truly come to fruition.

These trips are rich. Along with Spanish classes, explorations in the Mercado, a tour of pre-Colombian ruins and an outing to unique geological formations, this year’s trip to the city of Oaxaca included a visit to the Fondación en Vía, a microfinancing organization that is affiliated with the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca where our students studied. This beautiful photo shows Joushua, Maria, Amir, Jaylen and Chad with Gloria, a tamale maker in the tiny village of Teotitlán del Valle outside of Oaxaca. She received a $100 grant from the Fondación to finance her tamale business. Gloria invited our students into her home where they witnessed the tamale-making process from start to finish, including, of course, sampling her delicious products.

This trip is the culmination of the experiential, authentic education we offer children for eleven years of their young lives. As they understood the impact microfinancing could have on one woman and her family, Chad suggested that the 7th/8th graders earmark the proceeds from their final Sandwich Shop of the year for the Fondación, and that it what the kids decided to do. I couldn’t be more proud.

Every day, we are teaching our students to translate the wonder of their educations into actions that will move the world. Could there be a more perfect of example of students using the lessons of their Ancona years to impact the lives of others?

28 02, 2013


By |2013-02-28T14:17:32-06:00February 28th, 2013|Diversity and Social Justice|2 Comments

I’ve got butterflies – not our vibrant Ancona butterflies — but the excited kind you get when you’re planning a wonderful event for a crowd of people. This weekend’s 50th Anniversary Symposium — 50 Years of Diversity: Teaching and Learning at The Ancona School — is a major milestone for Ancona. This is an outstanding opportunity for our parents and educators from around Chicago to learn more about Ancona’s history and our educational practice today.

Given our country’s racial history, we commonly think about diversity in terms of access, equity and justice, all of which are critically important for our school community, our children and our society. Creating a diverse environment is the right thing to do, but simply creating the environment is not enough. The work of learning from each other and honing our sensitivities is continual. Through our social justice teaching, we inspire children to want to move the world. This is the work our teachers will share on Saturday.

Diversity is not only a remedy for the injustices of the past, it is also a tremendous educational asset for our children’s future. I had the good fortune recently to hear scholar and educator Yong Zhao* speak about education and America’s place in the global economy. “Globalization,” he said, “is about being able to handle diversity…The challenge is to equip our students with the ability, attitude and perspective to work across different perspectives.” This has been the goal of Ancona’s multicultural curriculum for many years. We are local and global!

Too often, schools, particularly those with high stakes entrance exams, are looking for children (and teachers) who are similar to each other. At Ancona, we have always been interested in a broadly diverse student body, precisely because it is through engagement with difference that children develop what Zhao calls the CQ – the cultural intelligence — that will enable them to operate successfully on a global stage. We want children to learn to view the ‘other’ not as problem but rather, as potential. And as we all know, kids will learn from friends more than they can ever learn from us.

Diversity is also a tremendous asset for problem solving and policy development. Economist Scott E. Page** claims that in many collaborative situations diversity trumps ability. Moving past the politics, Page demonstrates with economic models that diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individualities, “outperform groups of like-minded experts.” This is because novel solutions often come from new perspectives; it’s the reason that crowdsourcing works.

But diverse work groups have to know how to work together, and that’s where understanding our history combined with experience in diverse, collaborative settings makes a difference. This is what we work to accomplish at Ancona. And for this reason, dear reader, I hope to see you on Saturday!

*Yong Zhao is Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he is also Weinman Professor of Technology and Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership. He is the author of World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.
**Scott E Page is the Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.

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 https://www.anconaschool.org/ftpimages/297/misc/misc_90155.pdf

*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!

6 12, 2012


By |2018-12-17T11:37:47-06:00December 6th, 2012|Diversity and Social Justice, Multicultural Curriculum|2 Comments

Were the Dakota Indians driven off their land, because they didn’t know how to use their words?

I almost swerved into heavy traffic on the Kennedy last week when I heard a very earnest-sounding teacher give the following explanation of how she presents the U.S. – Dakota War to her 3rd graders.

We just talked about, like, a conflict is a disagreement. And we talked how the Dakota Indians didn’t know how to solve their conflicts. And the only way they knew how to solve their disagreements was to fight, which we know we don’t fight when we solve conflicts, we use our words.

 But that was their only way that they knew how to solve a conflict, they fought. And so then the white settlers needed to fight back to protect themselves…

On NPR’s This American Life, reporter John Biewen marked both Thanksgiving and the 150th anniversary of the largest mass hanging in U.S. history with a terrific story of the mistreatment of the Dakota by fur traders and the U.S. government, the resulting Dakota War and the expulsion of the Dakota from their lands in Minnesota in 1862.  Biewen asks how he could have grown up in Mankato, where this horrific event took place, and never been taught the history of the war, the hanging or the expulsion that made modern Minnesota possible. Today, teaching about the Dakota War is required in Minnesota — Biewen was interviewing a Mankato teacher — but this  doesn’t necessarily mean that the lessons impart much of an authentic understanding of what transpired.

This simplistic and racialized bad guys – good guys analysis perpetuates damaging stereotypes and completely glosses over the complexities and injustices of White-Indian relations; that it came from a teacher in 2012 was shocking (hence the near-swerve).

It was to deconstruct racial attitudes such as this that we at Ancona adopted our Multicultural Curriculum Strands nearly twenty years ago.  The Strands are a framework of critical ideas that undergird all curriculum development at Ancona.  The Strands very clearly state that our curriculum is designed to promote respect and anti-bias understandings in our students.

Here’s one of our most important strands:  There are multiple viewpoints to every event and situation. Knowledge is subjective and must be understood in the context of who is creating it as well as in the context of who is receiving it.

Were the Mankato teacher responsible for implementing the Multicultural Strands as Ancona teachers are, she most certainly would have understood and taught a very different history lesson,one that looked at the experience from different points of view and asked the children to think critically about the realities and brutalities of the Westward Expansion. They might well have made the connection to resolving conflicts peacefully, but from the vantage point of appreciating not only differences, but the relationship between violence and injustice.

Another strand says: Authentic voices communicating the stories of real people serve as the foundation upon which curriculum is developed and the medium through which it is communicated.

You can listen to the authentic voices of this story at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/479/little-war-on-the-prairie.

The Multicultural Curriculum Strands are included in the Parent Handbook. Access the handbook on our website under Forms and Policies. here>