While many fifth graders read in textbooks about integration in the United States, the fifth-grade students at Hillcrest Elementary School in Waco ISD immersed themselves in history through their annual trip and play.
Hillcrest Elementary is one of nine Professional Development Schools that Baylor School of Education partners with. The school was the first Baylor PDS, launching the PDS program over 20 years ago, and hosts both junior and senior teacher-education students within their classrooms. Seniors teach full-time at the school all year, while juniors are there each morning. In addition, several Baylor School of Education graduates are professional teachers on the campus.
Each summer, Hillcrest teachers choose a subject for their fifth graders to study for the entirety of the school year. This year the teachers selected a novel based on segregation and school integration in the South, particularly the 1957 story of the Little Rock Nine. The yearlong project always includes a special educational trip, and then the students write and produce a theatrical production about the topic.
Hillcrest science and social studies teacher Mary Helen Battles, BS ’71, said the teachers chose to focus on the Little Rock Nine because the historical event shows the impact students can have and the issues challenge students beyond the classroom.
“Hopefully, hearing the stories of kids making change will get our kids to ask big questions and want to make change too,” Battles said. The teachers wanted to encourage students to see people like themselves taking a stand for what they believe in and encourage them to do the same, Battles said.
Students and teachers traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, in October. They were able to visit the Arkansas Art Museum, Children’s Theatre, and Little Rock Zoo. The trip culminated with a visit to Little Rock’s Central High School, the school where the Little Rock Nine were initially prohibited from entering the racially segregated school by the Arkansas governor, but they were able to attend through federal intervention.
Baylor SOE Clinical Professor of Higher Education Leadership and Policy Tiffany Hogue witnessed the impact the trip had on the students, because her daughter, Anna, went on the Little Rock trip and played a part in the theatrical production.
“I definitely didn’t get to go on a trip like this when I was in fifth grade,” Hogue said. “When Anna came back, she asked so many questions that really got our family talking.”
After coming back from the four-day trip, students had the responsibility of using what they saw on the trip and lessons they learned in class to write an original play.
“The students get to have control of the script,” Hogue said. “The teachers are very supportive and are there to help, but they want to use the process to increase learning.”
Hogue said, “The whole experience was transformational for Anna and the other fifth graders, for their teachers and for us. During a time of great divisiveness and racial tension in our country, our kids are learning about the power of courage, hope and friendship.”
Hillcrest music teacher Paula Hoover, who oversees the plays, says she enjoys seeing the creative side of kids come out while they learn.
“I’m so proud of the work they have done during music class and the many performances our students have shared,” Hoover said.
This year marks the 21st year that Hillcrest fifth graders have put on a play. In recent years, the third- and fourth-grade students at Hillcrest have also written and produced plays, which tackle equally important historical lessons.
You can watch the Hillcrest play about the Little Rock Nine on Waco ISD’s YouTube site:
—by Olivia Berry
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