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‘You could change the world,’ students learn in women’s history, reading month collaboration

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East Grand Rapids — When Bennett Wang learned he would be interviewed by School News Network about women he had studied this month, his teacher said the second-grader made notes at home the night before.

“He wanted to be prepared,” said Erin Stirdivant.

And indeed he was. Right away, Bennett wanted to share what he knew about Mae Jemison.

“She was an astronaut, and the first Black woman in space,” he said. “She waved to her parents when she was in space.”

Kate Bishop chose to talk about feminist icon Frida Kahlo: “She was an artist from Mexico, and she had a disease (polio) that affected her leg. She started painting when she was in her bed, and she loved bright colors. And she drew lots of portraits of herself.”

June Bagby shared some facts about Pakistani activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai.

“She’s a person who fighted for girls to go to school,” June said. Why? “She was in a different country, and they did have school but there were these men that said they couldn’t go anymore.”

Lakeside Elementary second-grade teacher Erin Stirdivant

Dual March Activities

Among other March is Reading Month activities, Stirdivant’s second-graders at Lakeside Elementary read stories about inspirational women in honor of Women’s History Month, then created drawings that were displayed in the classroom and hallways.

“Every month I try to focus my read-alouds on celebrations happening within that month,” she said. “I have found that this year, especially, students have really enjoyed our read-aloud time. They have missed a lot of celebrations this year due to COVID, so I have tried to use picture books as mini-celebrations in our classroom.”  

Stirdivant said she has displayed books for Women’s History Month, but this is the first year her students did an art project to go along with books read. 

“I thought that would be a fun, creative way to showcase the women we’ve been learning about,” she said. I think it is important for students to know that these challenges for women (and) girls still exist in our world today. Also, for students, girls especially, to see that there are women out there who have played a pivotal role in our history.” 

As she pointed out, several women they learned about are still alive and doing important work — some of which started when they were kids themselves. 

“I think this allows all students to see that they can inspire change at any age,” she said. “…These specific read-alouds have led to a lot of great discussion about how all people can support one another.”

And, said Charlie Price, reading about pivotal women in history “teaches you the lesson that you could change the world.”

Classmate Emma Cermak, who also drew Frida Kahlo, didn’t hesitate to share how she plans to make her mark.

“With my poems,” she said before sharing one from a notebook tucked inside her desk. Its final lines: “We are women: strong, beautiful and most of all, powerful.”

Emma Cermak said she hopes to make her mark on the world through her poetry
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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