Two Mitchell 5th graders proudly show their work to William Muorwel, a former Lost Boy of Sudan.

 

Eighty students in Mitchell School’s fifth grade classrooms are undertaking a year-long “study in courage” thanks to a $3,500 grant from the NEF.  The goal of the grant, written by Mitchell Assistant Vice Principal Barbara Hayden and the 5th grade teachers, is to introduce 5th graders to inspirational people who have demonstrated courage and resiliency in overcoming obstacles–with a special focus on individuals from diverse cultures and races.  “Thanks to the NEF Grant, our students are learning to face the inevitable difficulties of life. Our hope is that our students will work hard — giving up less often because they will realize what is making them want to give up and address it.” said Hayden.
 
This fall, students participated in a read aloud of the book Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate and then completed a partner project based on the book.  This piece of historical fiction tells the story of a young Sudanese civil war survivor adapting to life in Minnesota. In October, fifth graders were visited by two inspirational speakers, William Muorel and Moses Ajou, both Lost Boys of the Sudan and survivors of the Sudanese civil war. The men shared their struggles, strategies for coping, and their ways of finding joy in life after losing their homes and families.  Said Colleen Soldato, a fifth grade teacher, “The grant has provided a cross-curricular opportunity for students to explore topics such as immigration and what it means to be an American.  This learning was brought to life by the visit from the former Lost Boys, William and Moses.”
 
In the spring, students will read about other courageous people who have faced adversity and overcome obstacles as they conduct partner research and prepare a presentation for their classmates.  The NEF grant funded a library of biographies and autobiographies for this project. Finally, fifth graders will participate in service-learning projects to support the South Sudanese Enrichment Center for Families in Medford and a school for children in South Sudan later this year.
 
So far, the grant has seemed to make a lasting impression, particularly the visit from the two former Lost Boys of Sudan.  As one fifth grader said, “You sent across a message to never give up and be optimistic and follow what you want to do, and work hard for what you want to do!  I will never forget that and never forget this presentation.”