Amazing Advocates Come to Life

The other morning in Room 200, the Kindergartners were asked what the word “advocate” meant to them. One offered a perfectly expressed response: “Someone who uses their voice to make the world a better place.” 

Framed by Chapin’s theme this year, “Our Future, Our Voices,” the three Kindergarten classes immersed themselves in a multidimensional study of advocates, focusing on a variety of inspiring individuals whose strong voices and empowering ideas have improved their communities and, by extension, the larger environment.

They discovered 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, who in 1960 was the first African-American child to integrate an all-white school; Isatou Ceesay, who led a crusade to repurpose plastic bags in her West African country; and Julia Butterfly Hill, a fearless environmental activist who lived in a tree to preserve its life. They also learned about the transformative Civil Rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who gives new meaning to the word “brave.”

To enliven the lessons, the teachers shared picture books with their students that beautifully captured the unlikely journeys and incredible fortitude of these and other advocates. The books included “One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia” written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon; “Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest” by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw; and “Malala’s Magic Pencil” written by Malala with illustrations by Kerascoet.

With energy and curiosity, the students absorbed the books, marveling at what the protagonists were able to accomplish by standing up for what they believed in. The advocates’ stories generated thoughtful inquiry in the three Kindergarten sections, leading to deeper exploration. In Katie Bowman and Alana Cimillo’s class, for example, an arts-integrated project enabled the students to celebrate the advocates in a unique way.

With the help of Drama teacher Sarah Bellantoni, the class performed a shadow-puppet show starring three advocates they selected from those they learned about in social studies: Ruby Bridges, Julia Butterfly Hill and Malala. An ancient form of storytelling, shadow puppetry uses flat, cutout figures held between a bright light and a translucent screen, thus creating shadows.

In small groups, the girls focused on one of the three advocates. They colored in their own paper dolls, which their teachers cut out, and then fastened thin wooden sticks to the undersides, allowing the puppeteers to move them up and down and back and forth. Highlighting key moments in each person’s life, they decided on the specific action and dialogue for the six short scenes (two for each advocate) and carefully wrote out the lines on small pieces of paper. Then the students practiced as much as they could.

Performance day arrived at last! Although the audience beyond their classmates was small (just a few faculty members and this writer), the girls seemed excited, although it was possible that a few may have had butterflies in their stomachs. Yet, the show had to go on, and these young actors rose to the occasion with high spirits.

As preparations were finalized, Room 200 buzzed with activity. With the guidance of Ms. Bowman, Ms. Cimillo and Ms. Bellantoni, the Kindergartners practiced saying their lines and manipulating their puppets. Last-minute adjustments were made, and any issues were quickly ironed out. Finally, the lights lowered, revealing an illuminated screen in the center of the room. Show time!

In rapid succession, the groups brought their characters to life. As the shadows danced on the white screen, the students, hidden behind, described milestones in their advocates’ paths to activism, from Julia Butterfly Hill’s determination to spare a precious tree to Malala’s commitment to girls’ education to Ruby Bridges’ courage in the face of adversity. Throughout the performances, the teachers were there to help with a forgotten line, to remind the girls to speak louder and to praise their efforts.

As these Kindergarten students, and their peers in the other sections, learned about advocates and the importance of standing up for vital causes, they also learned more about themselves and how they too can use their voices to educate others and to make their world a kinder, more equitable place to live.

Browse photos from the class below: