By Sam B., 6th Grade, Krieger Schechter Day School of Chizuk Amuno Congregation
According to Facing History and Ourselves, an American nonprofit organization that develops curriculum based on historical prejudices, upstanders are those who take action against injustices. They make an effort and often risk their lives to make a positive difference in our world.
Well-known upstanders include Thurgood Marshall, a 20th century lawyer famously known for playing a pivotal role in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a women’s rights activist and the first female Supreme Court justice, and Rosa Parks, a civil rights warrior.
At Krieger Schechter Day School, a major part of the seventh-grade English curriculum is the upstander research project. In fact, the motto for the seventh-grade year is: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue,” which in Hebrew is: צדק, צדק תרדוף (Tzedek, Tzedek, Teerdof) (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Students spend up to six months completing an in-depth study of one upstander of their choosing. The project culminates with a research paper.
Kelly Platzke, a middle school English and writing workshop teacher at KSDS, explains the purpose of this major project. “Some of the goals are just academic, as far as developing research skills and selecting a source from a library, specifically Enoch Pratt Library.”
Platzke also feels there is a larger piece to this experience other than its academic goals. “But then there’s another component that’s so important, and that is studying this idea of justice and people who have stood up to injustices in the world and changed society by their actions,” she says, noting it is one of her favorite parts of the middle school curriculum. She acknowledges that it involves a lot of work. “It’s a major investment of the students’ time and energy throughout the entire year. They fully learn and care about their upstanders, and they do the very best work they possibly can in the final product.”
The seventh-grade curriculum has always included a research paper. Platzke, who has been a teacher at KSDS for eight years, explains that this research project has undergone format changes, as teachers worked to meet the needs of their students. Its focus has also evolved from a person of profound influence to a non-conformist, and now an upstander. “Eventually, we decided that we really wanted to embrace the idea of justice in the world.”
The upstander paper includes three main sections: injustice, which focuses on the time in which the upstander lived; upstander, a section about the upstander’s life, work and achievements; and finally, legacy, which details the changes that resulted from the upstander’s actions.
Lev S., a current seventh-grade student at KSDS who researched Ida B. Wells, enjoyed visiting the Enoch Pratt Library in downtown Baltimore for research materials. Lev found the project both rewarding and challenging. “I feel that the hardest section to write was the legacy section, which explains what impact the upstander had and how the world has changed because of him (or) her because I had to think deeply. It took more effort than most of the other sections,” states Lev, who concludes that this project has taught him many important skills and provided experience with paraphrasing, editing and thinking critically.
The paper exemplifies what students and faculty believe at KSDS, which is working to make this world a better place and understanding the power of change.
Earlier this year, KSDS held its second annual social justice program organized by Sally Grobani, Lower School Hebrew and Judaics teacher. Her inspiration to build and lead this program was rooted in her work outside of school. “I did a fellowship program and was assigned a project to help ensure justice in the world,” says Grobani. “After talking with the seventh-graders, I came to a conclusion that a big theme throughout the year was justice, and that it would be really powerful to show that there aren’t just people making a difference in textbooks and that they are people in our community who are making the world a better place, similar to what the upstander project fulfills.”
The upstander research paper accomplishes many important lessons. It helps students develop and improve their research skills and it expands their knowledge of an injustice in history. However, the most important goal of the upstander project is to inspire children to make a difference.