We love watching students connect with books – and nothing is better than a whole class full of students coming together around an amazing book with a challenging topic.
Ms. Mapp’s 9th-grade class at the Collegiate Institute of Math & Science began their study of Patricia McCormick’s book The Plot To Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero like many other 9th-graders: a little wary of biography, but excited for an opportunity to meet the author nonetheless.
Lucky for them Patty McCormick is particularly adept at choosing interesting perspectives from which to explore history. The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a religious person and a pacifist who eventually decided that ridding the world of Hitler was the greater good, fueled discussion around the concept of whether (and when) violence is justified. After Patty’s visits, the students were captivated by the story and immersed in their Behind the Book program. Though they were already scheduled for two field trips – to the Bronx DA’s office and to the United Nations – they went one step further and asked to stage mock trials in their school library.
Over the course of three days, students took turns playing the roles of defense and prosecution attorneys. Patty visited the class once more for the trials, to watch as the students debated, defended, or denounced Bonhoeffer’s choices. Many argued their perspectives eloquently and passionately.
The trip to the UN was also a huge hit with the students. The Chair and Vice Chair of our Board of Directors, both attorneys, took the opportunity to chaperone. After the tour of the chambers one 9th-grader, Salsabeel, said “I was surprised at the diversity. Everyone is equal there.” While that may not be her personal, current experience of the world, the visual representation of equality that the UN puts forth is a strong motivator for students to continue to believe in its power and achievability.
Our Program Coordinator, Chris Fleming, was certain that the program was a success in her final class, when one student raised his hand to say, “This is the first time I knew a book by heart, cover to cover. And I know I’ll remember it – until at least the 11th grade.”
Photo credit for mock trial photos – Kelsey Dickey