Skip to content
SA Together Again: We’re back in classrooms and taking learning to new levels!
Blog

Mission Possible

Stories and insights on excellent education.

Teachers Use Literature, Art, and Poetry as Platform to Discuss a Contentious Election

The result of the 2016 presidential election has sparked heated discussions across the country — and at Success Academy’s 41 schools. The day after the election, scholars had many questions about the future of our country. Below, three educators describe how they addressed their scholars’ concerns, using art, literature, and spoken word poetry to create opportunities for respectful and productive conversations.

 

Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 11.04.49 AM

Biography of Claudette Colvin, Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose

Lisa Sun

Principal, SA Harlem North Central

The day after the election, it was clear to me that staff and students had a lot on their minds. I believe it’s important that, as educators, we handle politics in the classroom delicately — teachers have the power to influence young minds, and we should never make assumptions about how children feel about any candidate.

At SA Harlem North Central, students had been reading the biography of Claudette Colvin, Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose that month. Colvin was an African American civil rights leader who, as a 15-year-old girl, refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The day after the election, the class had arrived at the epilogue of the book and had the opportunity to reflect on its lessons. We used the book to explore student concerns about the social policies and racially charged language of the president-elect. I asked scholars to focus on the lessons they could learn from Colvin’s actions and they came up with lists of injustices in the U.S., including abuse of women and racial profiling. Scholars then brainstormed actions they could take to reduce these problems.

Colvin’s book also touches on the importance of pursuing an education, and using your own knowledge to support social justice causes. We were proud to hear many scholars echo that sentiment in the classroom last week.

When students are concerned by events outside the classroom, educators can use literature to initiate respectful conversations that give all students a voice, and make them feel like they can take productive action toward changing their country, or their world, for the better.

 

Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 10.06.26 AM

Matthew Pisacano

Art teacher, SA Bronx 1 Middle School

Some students at SA Bronx 1 Middle School were upset after last week’s election, so I initiated an open discussion. I asked students to first write an open letter to America to try and capture what they were feeling at that moment. Afterwards, they used their letter as a source of inspiration for an art exercise. I encouraged students to voice their opinions about the candidates, but I also knew it was important that I not impose any personal political feelings, so I acted as a guide for the discussion.

At the time, our school was preparing for an art show. We decided to include some pieces my students created after the election, such as their letters, an American flag painting, and a portrait of Donald Trump, pictured above. I reminded my scholars on Wednesday morning that times of political divisiveness and frustration often lead to the production of great art, music, and literature — these are the times when people want to share their voice. I encouraged students who were upset by the election result to not view themselves as victims, but rather as people who had the power to engage in productive dialogue. I want my studio to serve as a safe space for students to examine their thoughts — free of judgement.

 

Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 10.06.35 AM

David Quinones

Spoken word poetry teacher, SA Harlem West

As spoken word poetry teacher, my goal is to help scholars find their voice and express their opinions confidently. Since my class began this August, I have wanted my students to feel comfortable offering their views on social justice issues in my classroom. The day after the election was no different. My scholars have been writing and reciting spoken word poetry about this election and the candidates since the beginning of the year. On Wednesday, I used all three of my class periods to allow students to discuss the election outcome. It wasn’t my job as an educator to offer my own opinion about the election results, but as a teacher of spoken word poetry, I knew that they needed to express their feelings that day. I set the expectation that the conversation was to be respectful to all views, but I let them steer the ship, stepping in only to clarify some finer points about how our government works.

I was so proud of them that day. They were respectful to one another and offered informed, well-articulated opinions and concerns. I think it’s very important to trust your students in these moments. Through their work this year, they have demonstrated their ability to passionately and respectfully express their views on a number of topics — and their discussion last Wednesday proved this. I was happy when many of them left my classroom that day looking like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

Written by Success Academy November 21, 2016

Blog

Related posts

Protecting the planet, one world-class school at a time

November 12, 2021 Success Academy

Over the past two weeks, all eyes were on world leaders as they convened in Glasgow for the 2021 Climate Change Conference; the health of our planet has never been more critical. At Success Academy, our standard for excellence includes an investment in sustainability and an environmentally responsible approach to our operations and physical spaces.   ... Read more

Thank you to the veterans in our community!

November 10, 2021 Success Academy

The call to military service is not answered lightly, and those who sign up to serve our nation are often some of the most mission-driven people among us. It should come as no surprise, then, that so many veterans continue to serve their communities in some form after their military careers.  We’re lucky to have... Read more

“Happy Children Learn Better” – An SA parent reflects on the return to campus

October 7, 2021 Success Academy

Success Academy reopened its doors to scholars across the city in August, safely ushering students back into the classroom after an unprecedented 2020-21 school year. To keep our scholars safe — and learning — it’s more important than ever that we work together with families and guardians to ensure everyone in our community is on... Read more

Enroll your child

We’re now accepting K-4 applications for the 2022-2023 school year.

Work with us

Build your career while making an impact at Success Academy.