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