Patrice Henry, ORU Graduate and current Yale Fellow, has used her passion for the middle school students at Central Junior High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma to create a unique four-week curriculum unit. It revolves around helping students answer two questions: where do I come from and where am I going?
The backbone of the unit is literature and instructional texts, which allow the students to “view life and identify through the eyes of both fictional and nonfictional characters,” according to Henry’s research article. By studying the different texts, students learn different aspects of identity and its connections with social, political and familial constructs.
The two types of texts used are August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and texts regarding the Greenwood District and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Both types discuss the struggles of the black community and how the authors rose from the ashes of their troubled paths. In the unit, the students go through what Henry describes as a “…process [of] research, analysis, and theatrical character development [to] explore various aspects of individuality in connection with familial, social, and political constructs.”
Central Junior High School was founded on the idea that instruction and relationships are equally important. The students attending the school are beginning their secondary schooling and fall into the age range of 12-14. Many of the students come from ethnic backgrounds, cover a wide range of academic skills and almost 100 percent of them are poverty victims and have endured traumatic experiences in the home. The latter factors can have negative influences in the classroom and can interfere with the students’ ability to learn. According to Henry, this unit counteracts the “poverty mentality and cultural stereotypes” and teaches the students to take those experiences and grow.
The goal of the unit is to “increase literacy across mediums, expose students to various forms of expression and inspire further research.” Students will build upon their personal strengths as they work together to discover their potential. By the end of the unit, students are more eager to learn and excited to work together.
“They strive for excellence academically. They are tenacious, setting realistic goals and working until all criteria is met. They are leaders driven by personal visions of success, and it is an absolute honor to serve them during this time,” Henry said. “I want my students to learn without fear, dream without restraint and live without excuse.”