Black History Month Teaches Students To Dream

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In honor of Black History Month the English Language Learning students in Trina Gunzel's classes at Julia Randall Elementary School have been studying famous black Americans.

The unit began with research on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contribution to history.

Following King's "I Have a Dream" lead, the students wrote about their own dreams for a better world.

"I have a dream to help people have clothes," wrote Maria Carbajal.

"My dream is to help people not have wars. I wish nobody would fight," wrote Janeth Antillon.

Luis Rodriguez wrote his dream is to have a clean park.

"Our project for February (for fourth- and fifth-graders) is finding out the things famous black Americans have accomplished in their lifetimes," said Gunzel.

Each student chose one person to study.

Enrique Lopez chose Michael Jordan to study because he likes basketball. Janeth chose Oprah Winfrey because she is pretty and she has seen her in the newspaper.

As they talked about different people's contributions to America, students learned that it was not all about sports, Gunzel said.

Eber Valenzuela initially chose George Washington Carver to study because he liked the way his moustache looked.

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Julia Randall Elementary School teacher Trina Gunzel

Valenzuela had never seen a handlebar moustache. He thought it was funny when he learned that it was named after handlebars on a bicycle. The strange looking moustaches were the fashion during the turn of the 20th century when Carver lived. After he stopped laughing about the moustache, Valenzuela began to learn more about Carver.

He learned the former slave became a scientist and a humanitarian. He learned that Carver invented adhesive.

Black History Month is just another part of a year-long community theme in the classroom.

The school year began with the students sharing information about themselves and their families, then looking at the school community, professions and the Payson community.

"We have been building on this theme of community and looking at how we each are an important part of our community and students have reflected on who has made a difference in their lives," Gunzel said.

The class will continue building on this theme of community through the end of the year and make world connections on Earth Day.

"I use nonfiction concepts to teach English, build language concepts, and teach higher level thinking skills," she said.

ELL standards for listening, speaking, reading and writing are incorporated into each month's lesson plan.

Gunzel's job is to teach and/or reinforce skills for ELL students that their regular classroom teachers notice they need more help with. This includes things like proper grammar and structure in their writing, reading fluency and vocabulary development.

"I have specific lessons I teach based on the student test scores and progress levels, but I also support the regular classroom instruction and assist with classroom projects and subjects, as needed," Gunzel said.

Reporting on a famous person made students incorporate research skills, the use of note cards, and accessing information on the Internet.

They learned how to take notes and cite their source rather than simply cutting and pasting words from a Web site.

The chance to share what they have learned in front of their peers boosts their self-esteem, Gunzel said.

Now their fellow students know that inventor Lewis Lattimer's contribution to society was the incandescent electric lamp and Maya Angelou's claim to fame is poetry and writing.

Gunzel wants students to be aware of many different people's contributions that helped others and set goals for what they want to achieve in their lives.

"If you have something that you want to be when you grow up, it makes taking challenging academic classes more meaningful and purposeful," she said.

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