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Virtual presentations teach students about Juneteenth

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The sixth-grade students at Atkinson Intermediate School and eighth grade students at Dodd Middle School recently participated in two interactive virtual presentations incorporating the topics of civil rights, emancipation, learning about family history and Juneteenth.

Atkinson sixth-graders met with award-winning television personality and author, Cheryl Wills who presented her children’s book titled The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills, which tells of the dream she had when she was able to interview her great, great, great grandfather – a man who was born a slave and fought in the Civil War.

“The words, illustrations and presentation of Ms. Wills’ book immediately activated curiosity from teachers and students to discuss and understand the meaning of emancipation,” Director of Arts and Community Relations Ruth Breidenbach said.

The students were thoroughly engaged in this interactive virtual meeting and found the experience to be incredibly powerful as Ms. Wills beautifully connected the celebration of Juneteenth with her own family history of emancipation and the importance of recognizing and celebrating the significance of the Juneteenth holiday.

“I felt empowered by the story of Sandy Wills. Learning about his emancipation helped me realize that he worked to change Black history and that I work to change the future,” said sixth grader Bryan Thomas, Jr.

Eighth-graders from J.W. Dodd Middle School were amazed to virtually meet Mr. David Greenberg, author of the novel The Tugging String and the son of Jack Greenberg, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s lawyer.

During his powerful presentation, Mr. Greenberg shared his family story of growing up on Long Island in the 1960’s and how his father played a role in the history of civil rights. He also shared the story of meeting Dr. King. Mr. Greenberg connected his stories with the social studies curriculum the students had previous learned, which helped them to understand the historical significance of the civil rights movement and bring a deeper understanding of the impact of injustice on Black Americans.

Mr. Greenberg also read several of his poems which were full of rhythm and meter, followed by a meaningful question and answer session with the students.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Glori Engel said “Ms. Wills and Mr. Greenberg shared their knowledge and awareness of civil rights, emancipation and Juneteenth with our students and through sharing this education and understanding, our students can recognize and celebrate the courage of Black Americans, how far they have come and how far we all still need to go to become true advocates for change.”

At the end of the presentations, the students felt Ms. Wills and Mr. Greenberg both made a strong impact and instilled in them the importance of education, lifting others and learning about family history. The students are looking forward to learning more about emancipation, civil rights and the experiences of Black Americans as well as the historical events surrounding Juneteenth that make it a day of celebration and a time to reflect on culture, activism and empowering diversity.