Books in the Middle School curriculum addressing racial justice

We checked in with three Waynflete middle school teachers recently to discuss some of their favorite books on the subject of racial justice…

Alyssa Goodrich: “I love teaching The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas because this novel meets eighth graders right where they are developmentally: keenly aware of injustice in the world around them and eager to become active and courageous citizens. This novel offers a nuanced and compassionate example of our society’s most urgent and complex issues related to the fight for racial justice. By providing students with highly engaging and relevant stories such as The Hate U Give, and by giving them opportunities to discuss their questions and ideas, we can nourish their enthusiasm for reading while also fostering their social, intellectual, and civic voices.”

Cassie Pruyn: “In English 6, we are enjoying reading and discussing Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor. This novel focuses on the Logans, an African American family living in Mississippi at the height of the Great Depression and the Jim Crow era. With love, intelligence, and integrity, the family supports one another as they struggle to resist a deeply dangerous and unjust world. Students have been learning about the novel’s historical context, analyzing its literary elements, and connecting its themes to the present day.”

Nat Silverson: “For the summer reading this year, the seventh graders read Francisco Jimenez’s The Circuit, a collection of short stories about the lives of a family of migrant workers from Mexico.  To me, this collection is evidence of why reading remains the most effective way to feel empathy for one another as human beings.  It is impossible to read these clear, simple, but layered stories and not feel the hope and loneliness of Francisco and his struggling but determined family.  I love seeing the students’ eyes go wide when we unpack the symbolism in “Inside Out,” one of the stories in the collection. It is as if they are seeing for the first time that a layer exists to the books they read that they’ve never noticed before but has been there the entire time.”

Discovering the lizard brain in Seminar

Students in Middle School Seminar recently gained a better understanding of the form and functions of the brain stem (in Seminar, this is called the “cave brain” or “lizard brain”)—the parts of the brain that do the basic work of keeping us alive. These include automatic functions like breathing, moving , and blinking, as well as scanning for safety, subconscious behaviors, and automatic sorting/categorizing activities.

These automatic functions lead to a discussion of biases, which we all possess. Biases were useful during the early days of Homo Sapiens—the ability to quickly categorize everything allowed us to survive. In contemporary society, however, the automatic brain functions that result in biases can blossom into prejudice and discrimination. After learning how and why the brain sorts, students were introduced to tools they can use to interrupt or redirect the assumptions and impulses that can lead to discrimination against others based on race, sex, gender, class, religion, culture, and sexuality. Teacher Kate Ziminsky guided students through an activity where they categorized a variety of items (including keys, dice, game pieces, blocks, and toys), then explained why they made those decisions.

Next week’s class will focus on the attributes or preferences we all have that are invisible to others. Students will use their “thinking brains”—the cortex/prefrontal cortex—to get curious, then interview their classmates and ask the kinds of questions that help override stereotypes and assumptions.


We’re looking forward to seeing both new and familiar faces back on campus! Be sure to check out this brief video that provides an overview of the new Swivl technology that will be in our hybrid classrooms this fall. The video features four faculty members and was recorded during our Summer Term classes.

Watch the video

Sixth grade virtual museum

Each June, the sixth grade culminates the year by celebrating students’ learning through the preparation for and presentation of the Night at the Museum. This year, as with all of our school activities, our culminating event went online—a celebration of sixth-grade community, learning, student voice, and above all, resiliency in the face of Covid-19!

As we headed towards the final days of school, students were hard at work preparing presentations in numerous classes. Each student selected two particular presentations that they wanted to share with family, friends, teachers, and the broader community. Students presented twice throughout the morning and will also served as an audience member for other students’ presentations.

View the presentations