Eighth grade heads to Atlanta for civil rights trip

This upcoming May, the eighth-grade class will head to Atlanta and Montgomery, Ala. for a six-day trip exploring civil rights. The trip is meant to serve as a capstone trip for students finishing middle school as well as a chance to learn about other communities in the United States.

The eighth-grade students will fly from Baltimore to Atlanta on Tuesday, May 14 and return on Sunday, May 19. They will be based in Atlanta but will also visit Montgomery for a day and spend Shabbat at Ramah Darom in Clayton, Ga. Throughout the trip, students will explore a variety of places associated with different subjects in the eighth-grade curriculum, ranging from attending an Atlanta Braves baseball game and talking about statistics to exploring museums related to civil rights.  

“It really is a way for [students] to explore an impactful way that people have changed our community and also ways that have been ineffectual and explore issues of racism today and anti-Semitism today,” Middle School Assistant Principal Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass said. 

At the beginning of last school year, Ozur Bass, along with Jewish text teacher Rachel Meytin, put together a committee of teachers in order to brainstorm possible ways to celebrate the middle school graduation in a way that would add to the curriculum. They also consulted with parents of eighth graders and other schools who have ran similar trips in the past.

The idea of taking a civil rights trip to Atlanta seemed like the most practical and fitting choice, especially because of the strong Jewish community in Atlanta, access to kosher food and the availability of a place to stay for Shabbat, which were priorities when planning the trip. Ozur Bass also acknowledged that because of its geographic location, most eighth-grade students were less familiar with Atlanta than cities in the Northeast. 

“We really wanted it to be a place where they were experiencing something very different than just being here,” Ozur Bass said. 

According to Ozur Bass, the eighth-grade civil rights trip is meant to serve both an academic purpose and allow students to get to know each other in new, different ways. 

“[The trip is meant] to have them celebrate who they are as a class, to spend time together, to strengthen those bonds as they go into high school and really help them form their class identity as they go into high school,” Ozur Bass said. 

Ozur Bass will join the eighth-grade class on this trip. She is excited to spend time with the grade and see how the experience will impact them as a class and as individuals. 

“I am excited about the integration of the curriculum,” Ozur Bass said. “I also [have] been to Atlanta a number of times and I personally am very moved by the words and teachings of Martin Luther King [Jr.] and I am looking forward to those discussions and ‘ah ha’ moments when they realize that as individuals they too can make an impact on the world.”

The trip coincides with a unit in the eighth-grade history classes on race and membership, which, according to history teacher Eytan Apter, “looks at the civil rights movement and the history of race in this country, and brings it to the contemporary.” While the eighth-grade history curriculum has included this unit for the last three years, this is the first year where such topics will extend beyond the classroom. 

History teachers are working to ensure that during the unit on race and membership, students learn material that can then be applied when they visit Atlanta. After the students return, they will have class time to debrief the trip.

“We’re not going to be structuring the trip to be a classroom experience. But we’re also making sure that everything that we’re doing will tie into something that we have learned or that we will learn,” Apter said. “So [on the trip] we will be guiding the learning process, but we’re not going to be making everything a traditional classroom experience because [students] will have that later on.”

Apter is one of nine teachers who will be accompanying the students on their trip. Each teacher is focusing on a specific part of the trip and looking to structure it in a way that can push the students to learn experientially.

Overall, Apter feels that certain activities on the trip, such as visiting CNN headquarters and visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, will help bring to life lessons that students previously learned about in the classroom, such as free speech and racism in the south.

“One of the things that any teacher thinks about is not just teaching the class at that moment, but what will the students remember and what will they take away,” Apter said. “And I think going to visit those sites is a way to solidify that learning and leave it imprinted in their minds.”

Eva Kreisler, parent of eighth-grader Isaac Kreisler, thinks that the trip is a “wonderful idea.” Although she cited some security concerns, especially after the shooting in Pittsburgh in late October, she feels that overall, the school will ensure that the trip is safe and meaningful.

“It’s a nice class building activity,” Kreisler said. “It’s nice to have a culmination of the middle school experience in such a unique way.” 

This story was featured in the Volume 36, Issue 3 edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on Dec. 20, 2018.