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Common Ground Lodestar Community Charter School

Overview

What can sixth graders do to promote a better world? In a country that is increasingly Islamophobia and intolerant, where hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise, and where difference is rejected rather than embraced, we need to promote religious tolerance.

Sixth graders at Lodestar Community Charter School in Oakland, CA became journalists with an assignment to promote religious tolerance in our community. This learning expedition was called "Common Ground: Promoting Religious Tolerance through Journalism." Students first analyzed the causes and effects of 9/11 and learned how to craft interview questions and write a newspaper profile article of a local Muslim or Arab community member. Next, they studied the common heritage, beliefs, and practices of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In their culminating project, students wrote, recorded, and produced podcasts on various topics promoting religious understanding and tolerance.

We chose podcasts as our media since mastering this technique will allow our students to continue to amplify their voices on topics that are important to them. Since the barriers to entry for podcasting are relatively low, students can podcast using our school equipment for many years to come.

"I have learned a lot in expedition. Something that has been very important to me is that no one should be judged by what they believe or what their religion is." - Joanna, 6th Grade
"We are learning about Islamophobia so we can try to help stop it. It is important to know that all Muslims are not terrorists." - A'aniya, 6th Grade

Islamophobia is on the rise in our country, rooted most deeply in ignorance and fear. Particularly since 9/11, Muslim and Arab community members are profiled, harrassed, and attacked simply for their beliefs. We recognize that sharing knowledge of the ways in which people of all faiths are fundamentally connected is key to promoting tolerance, respect, and love.

We chose to use print and radio journalism as the medium to communicate our message of religious tolerance. Developing students as journalists builds their skills in crafting thoughtful interview questions, organizing their thoughts, citing evidence, and polishing and publishing their writing.

"Just because you're Christian doesn't mean you're better than Jews or better than Muslims. It just means you have a different belief and others can have another belief and that's okay." -Alexis, 6th Grade

Mastery of Skills and Content

Students learned content that helps them to be empowered and knowledgeable agents of positive change. They explored what happened on 9/11 and how 9/11 changed life for Muslims, Arabs, and those perceived to be Muslim or Arab. To build the foundation to promote religious tolerance, students explored the history, beliefs, and rituals of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and came to important realizations about how and why these three religions are so closely connected.

Rather than just writing essays or reports, students learned authentic skills in both print and radio journalism. Students learned to craft probing and well-researched interview questions, select quotes and anecdotes, and outline, revise, and publish newspaper profile articles. Later in the semester, students learned all about podcasting. They distinguished how writing for radio is different than writing for print, wrote and edited podcast scripts, practiced voicing, and then mastered the skills of sound editing to produce their final products.

"It takes a long time to find the tone of voice and a way to attract your reader to listen to what you have to say." - Donna, 6th Grade

Character

Students demonstrated all of our core values throughout our "Common Ground" expedition. They showed agency by interviewing community members and learning the skills of professional journalists and using their voice to promote positive change. By using their voices to promote positive change, they demonstrated social justice. Lodestar students showed integrity in asking honest questions to visiting experts and guests and working through challenges with their teammembers. Above all, they demonstrated community and love - extending themselves so that Muslims and Arabs know that they are welcome and belong in our community.

"We showed community by helping each other when we need help or when we really got stuck on something." - Michelle, 6th Grade
"We show integrity by helping each other when we get stuck on something because it's the right thing to do." - Isaiah
"We love everyone here because we are family." - Fatima, 6th Grade

Craftspersonship

Critical to the development of our final journalism projects was the use of mentor texts. Students observed the structure and form of multiple newspaper profile articles to learn how to craft their own articles. When it came time to write and produce our podcasts, students listened to various examples of podcasts to learn more about the style, structure, and format of professionally produced podcasts.

Students took both of their final journalism projects, their newspaper profile articles and their podcasts, through multiple rounds of careful revisions. They paid attention to the content of their articles as well as the layout, and the script as well as the sound editing and music tracks of their podcasts.

Experts

We were incredibly lucky and grateful to connect and learn from many experts over the course of our expedition. Professional experts such as Tammerlin Drummond from the East Bay Times and Alyssa Jeong Perry from KQED guided our students to become print and radio journalists. Muslim community members including students, teachers, faith leaders, and other lay leaders shared their experiences with Islamophobia, 9/11, and stories about being Muslim in the bay area. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith leaders helped our students to trace commonalities among the three religious. A special expert was Holocaust survivor, Eva Kaufman, who brought to life for us the danger of religious intolerance.

Fieldwork

"I didn't know they believed in Jesus or the same God as me." Juan, 6th Grade

Getting off campus and out into the community enriched our learning experience. We traveled to the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California on two occasions to interview community members and observe a Muslim prayer ritual. We visited the KQED radio and TV studios to learn more about producing our podcasts. Finally, we traveled to the campus of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism to record our podcasts in their professional studio.

"If I worked at the KQED Station I think I would like it because when we went there it was really cool inside the place. Also people could listen to me and get good advice from me if they hear me talk." -India, 6th Grade
"I think that visiting UC Berkeley was really fun because you get to see some of the classes and you get to see how the professionals do what they do." - Nathan, 6th Grade
"I think I might want to go to UC Berkeley because the campus is super pretty and it would be fun living there." - Marccelo, 6th Grade
"The one and only chance to probably see a university in middle school. Also a chance to go to a studio to record podcasts because I never got a chance to record one or make one before." -Chesoni, 6th Grade

Expo

On January 12, 2018, we invited our family members, experts and our wider community to hear our completed podcasts and celebrate the entire learning process. Students and families beamed with pride at the amazing work completed!

Credits:

Some photos by Diane Villadsen

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