Armory Summer Camp: The Double V Campaign for Social Justice

Lee Hines: Double V Compaign

At our summer camp at the Springfield Armory, where our themes all week have centered on social justice issues, middle school campers explored the notions of the Double V Campaign — when returning WW2 African American veterans searched for racial equality and respect, and the end to segregation, at the home-front after serving as heroes in the war.

Our visitor — Lee Hines — is part of the Veterans Education Project, and he has done extensive research on the Double V. Hines is also a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He flew airplanes and helicopters over Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In his talk with the camp, Hines notes the ways the African American soldiers of WW2 paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement, and how the Double V Campaign sparked dissent in our country and caused government officials like FBI Director Edgar Hoover to move to squelch it.

Earlier, we had watched a powerful digital film created for National History Day by other middle school students on the topic of the Tuskegee Airmen, whose heroism is now celebrated but whose existence at the time was the cause for much argument around segregation, military service and more. Our campers come from a social justice middle school, so these topics resonated with them.

Following Hines’ talk, we had students create their own versions of a Double V Campaign poster, in hopes of getting them think about all of those brave men, and women, who fought against evil in the war and then came home, and fought against injustice in their own communities.

Double V Campaign PostersThis is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (always ready),
Kevin

 

Using Material Culture to Understand the Past

Using Material Culture to Understanding History

We had some guest visitors to our summer camp at the Springfield Armory historic site yesterday. Reba Jean and her daughter, Piper, are both historians, who conduct immersive workshops with students as a way to teach them about the past. She calls this “material culture,” as in the objects from the past can bring to the surface the stories of the people who lived in a certain time.

A little research on this term, which was new to me, showed me that this is a common historical concept.

Material culture is the physical aspect of culture in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. The term is commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, specifically focusing on the material evidence that can be attributed to culture in the past or present.

Material culture studies is an interdisciplinary field that tells of the relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. It draws on both theory and practice from the social sciences and humanities such as art history, archaeology, anthropology, history, historic preservation, folklore, literary criticism and museum studies, among others. Anything from buildings and architectural elements to books, jewelry, or toothbrushes can be considered material culture. — via Wikipedia

Since we are exploring World War 2 and women at the home-front (when men went to war, the women of Springfield were recruited in neighborhoods to work in the Armory, disrupting families and forever altering the social fabric of the city), Reba Jean and Piper presented our young writers with objects and stories of the time period. It was fascinating to watch our middle school campers come to learn about rations, and gender expectations, and the sacrifices of children.

They held a jar of recycled aluminum foil balls that would be donated to the war effort, fingered old sugar and food cloth sacks that were used to repair socks when other materials were not available, smelled the old rubber tire used for soles of shoes, read comic books with superheroes fighting for the Allies, and more.

The most powerful stories came from the objects of her own father-in-law, who had inscribed into his tin water cup the many places he fought in the trenches in WW2 but never talked about at home. She also had a recovered bayonet from Germany that her father-in-law brought home, not as a souvenir of war but as a reminder of childhood. Inside the bayonet casing, you can smell the mix of oil and materials that evoked the smell of crayons, and she said her father-in-law and other soldiers would smell that smell when they were scared or lonely or homesick. All of us in the room took a sniff, experiencing what he also smelled as the war raged around him.

Our Own Rosie

Finally, a student volunteer was “dressed” to resemble the famous Rosie the Riveter image of WW2 home-front, with the student nearly falling over with all of the “stuff” Rosie had to carry to stay strong at home.

Overall, our campers learned so much, through the touching and exploring of the “material objects” which brought the stories of the past to the surface in tangible and important ways.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (from the past),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Inquisitive Kids at Writing Camp

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

You may know this feeling if you have ever imagined and then brought to reality a writing camp in the summer. In the hour before camp starts, you wonder: will anyone actually come? They signed up. But will they get out of bed and get here? And then, they do arrive, and you realize, this was a great idea!

That was me, and my colleagues, yesterday, as middle school kids arrived at the Springfield Armory Historical Site for our week-long free summer writing camp. It was a relief that they showed up.

And then we had a fantastic day of looking through and writing about primary source images from the Armory’s history, touring the historic buildings on the grounds of the site, learning about innovation exhibits on the museum floor, and pretending to be innovators in the manufacturing of a “lock plate.”

What great campers! What a great day!

And today, we get to write and to explore once again.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (from the past to the future),
Kevin

 

The Start of a National Parks Historic Site Summer Camp

Welcome to Springfield Armory Camp.001

We have the snacks.

Armory Camp Snacks

We have the notebooks, pencils and writing materials.

Armory Camp Supplies

And now, we’re off to start the first day of our Minds Made for Stories summer camp at the Springfield Armory, a National Parks Historic Site, where we will explore stories, and primary sources, and social justice issues.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (digging into the past),
Kevin

 

Chalk Talk: Learning Beyond the Curriculum

Chalk Talk June 2018

I wrote a piece that was published this past week in the local newspaper about some activities for our sixth graders at our school that seem to fall outside of our traditional curriculum, but which still have a huge impact on the learning for our students.

This column, which honors the work of colleagues at my school, is part of a regular feature our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has in partnership with our local regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Each month, WMWP teachers are featured as columnists.

Read Of Archers, Actors and Artists

and read the Chalk Talk archives for other pieces from WMWP teachers

Peace (is how we learn),
Kevin

My Students Know Me Well: A Gifted Saxophone

Gift of Saxophone Art from a StudentI am always appreciative of any gift a student and family give me at the end of the year, but I am also a little uncomfortable with such gifts, too. My job is to teach. It’s my passion, too. Thank You’s are just fine with me. I don’t need gift cards or whatever to understand appreciation for our year of writing and reading together.

One student this year put paint brush to (recycled) cardboard and gave me her own painting of a saxophone. That’s my main musical instrument. Of all the tokens, this is my favorite, for it shows I shared myself with my students. (I also got a New York Giant mug and some New York Yankee pens).

I loved this saxophone so much, I put it through some photo filters to make a collage.

Saxophones in filters

Peace (played soulful on the saxophones of the world),
Kevin

 

Monkeys Fly When Writers Write

Monkeys before flying

Yesterday was the last day with students. It’s an emotional day and at our awards ceremony, I try to lighten the mood a bit with my Flying Monkey Award.

The Flying Monkey Award celebrates students who have completed every writing prompt from the year (we did 66 prompts this year, from short stories to arguments to designing theme parks to making comics, and much much more) and kept their notebook from prompt number one through prompt number 66.

If so, their name goes into a lottery and four students get randomly chosen to get a screaming, flying monkey shot across the auditorium at them (by me, of course). They get to keep the monkey, by the way. It seems a fitting way to end the awards ceremony that ends the school year.

This is the monkey shot, from another year.

Peace (summer’s nearly here),
Kevin

Book Review: Finding Mighty

The calls for more diverse books, more diverse characters and more diverse writers has certainly paying off with a slew of amazing stories for audiences of all ages, providing different perspectives on experiences. I’ll put Sheela Chari’s Finding Mighty in that category, although her story would clearly hold up even without this talk of diversity.

Finding Mighty is a mystery story, of sorts, with a small group of urban New York City youths searching for hidden diamonds. The setting is the city itself, with Parkour being part of how young people navigate the landscape. Graffiti art and family history, and a rotating narrative view of different characters all provide tension and atmosphere that moves this story along.

While one of the main characters, Myla, is Indian-American and the other, Peter, is African-American, (and one of their friends is white with Netherlands roots), this range of ethnicity is part of the fabric of the story itself. Chari addresses the difficulty of assimilation and retaining cultural connections, but only in service to the story. We understand these characters better as a result as they develop friendship and kinship, and perhaps, we come to understand each other, too.

I enjoyed the ways the kids put together the clues they find, and how the family histories are part of the mystery, and the way that the city itself was nearly a character — with subway trains and tracks, the old Aquaduct water system as part of a map,  historic houses, and more. It’s all woven together nicely.

This book is very appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students.

Peace (on the street),
Kevin

Who Said Anything About Quitting? The Digital Picture Book Project

Sharing Digital Picture Books

On our last full day of school yesterday (we still have today and tomorrow as half days), my librarian colleague, Pati, and I arranged to have our sixth graders share digital picture books with first graders, and it was a lovely experience to gather the older kids with the younger kids.

Our sixth graders made their books this year in Google Slides, and the theme was to riff off the picture book The Day the Crayons Quit. Although we all felt rushed by the end, with not enough time to do everything that needed to get done, the sharing was a success. I am grateful for colleagues like Pati.

It was all about writing for an audience, collaborating with a partner, understanding the design of image and words, and creating something worth sharing to younger readers. Pati and I have done versions of this project now for the past few years.

and

 

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Beat of the Drums Connect Us

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn’t. So imagine this: On the stage in the high school auditorium, there are about 175 seventh-graders, sitting before African hand drums or holding onto colorful boom-sticks. In the audience, there are about 175 sixth graders, listening to the sound of the entire seventh-grade class drumming and singing a song of welcome to the upcoming class. A visiting drummer/artist who tours the world working with schools is leading the way, helping the students find the beat.

At some moments, everyone in this space — all 350 or more of us — are chanting and drumming and finding a common rhythm together. It is an amazing experience to use music to create connections, to tap into the rhythms of the beat as a shared experience.

Then, as seventh graders leave to head home on their bus on their half-day schedule, our sixth graders take their places at the drums at the front of the stage, and in minutes, the auditorium is alive again with the heartbeat pounding of drumming and percussion, finding sync together with hands and fingers and sounds and voice.

And so begins the day of our sixth grade students joining other sixth grade students in our sprawling school district at the regional school, where in September, they will become classmates as seventh graders for the next six years. I hope they will remember this — how they all came together in this space to create something magical through music.

Peace (in the beat of the heart),
Kevin