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STEM at Blodgett Students Publish Books about Diversity & Inclusion

This is a photo of a male student holding a book titled 'Race & Ethnicity' standing next to his teacher.If you’re looking to read about equity, diversity, or inclusion, look no further than Leeza Roper’s ELA classroom at Syracuse STEM at Blodgett.
This winter, Ms. Roper’s ELA classes – along with all the school’s 8th grade ELA classes – worked together to publish five different hardcover books, each relating to these topics.
Ms. Roper said she had been brainstorming an ELA project relating to diversity and inclusion – she wanted to get her students involved in the discussion in a way that would encourage them to express what those topics look like in their lives. After a colleague sent her a link to an online company that offers free publishing for students, the project was officially born.
One day during their bell ringer time in class, students were presented with the topics of gender and sexual identity, race and ethnicity, and bullying and bias. They were encouraged to write about one of the topics, of their choosing, in their journal. Then, they were asked to anonymously share, on an index card, which topic they would like to learn more about. Two classes had a majority vote in support of bullying and bias; two others chose race and ethnicity.
Working in groups of 2-3, students worked together to plan their writing. Each group had at least one writer and at least one illustrator; and together, they created an outline, decided what type of writing they would do, and drafted their work. Students were given the option to write poetry, a research-based informational piece, or creative, narrative writing.
Neyshkalie Velazquez and her group chose to tell the true story of Bethany Thompson, a sixth-grade girl from Ohio, a cancer survivor who ultimately committed suicide because she was bullied for the way she looked.
“We researched her and we wanted to share her story,” Neyshkalie shared. “I wanted people to feel what she had to go through. So many kids our age really don’t care about bullying – they think it’s funny. I want our story to help them understand the impact bullying can have and change how they’re acting.”
Neyshkalie said she has always enjoyed writing, but this project was fun because she was given the freedom to choose her own topic and her own story to tell. She also noted that having her teacher’s guidance in developing the story was helpful.
After students submitted their first drafts, Ms. Roper introduced some new vocabulary related to the topics students were writing about, to help them expand and focus their writing.
“They understood the topics in a very straight and narrow way,” Ms. Roper shared. “So we talked about things like harassment, empathy, civil rights, hate crimes, stereotypes, humiliation… other words that explain the topics and are related but that aren’t necessarily the first things they’d think of. From there, we saw the kids getting really creative! They wrote about coming of age, school, how to overcome bullying situations and more.”
Through the process, Ms. Roper said students had to outline, brainstorm, decide what their options were and adjust to where their imagination took them. How could they flesh out their ideas? How can they explain things more clearly? They even created a rubric together so the students were clear about what great writing would look like.
“Their big takeaway was how challenging it is to create a book,” Ms. Roper explained. “They have a new respect now for authors and people who create, because they understand it’s not just a one shot thing. This generation of kids, many of them, think everything has to be immediate. They’d write their first draft and say ‘we’re done!’ This project helped them realize that the first draft is just the beginning – there is so much more you have to do. But because of the topics they were writing about, they were willing to put in the work. Because the subject matter that was important to them, they wanted their work to be close to perfection. So they got to see what improvement looks like, and they are so proud to show off their finished product!”
The publishing company, Student Treasures, provided a teacher’s manuscript for free – so currently, a copy of each book is on display in the reading nook in Ms. Roper’s classroom. She is hoping to find an opportunity to raise funding to allow her to purchase additional copies to be placed on display in the school’s Expo Center. What a great opportunity for students to share their skills and learn from each other!
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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