“The Fierce Urgency of Now”: A Peek into 5th Grade

You may have noticed the vibrant installation along the fence in front of our school building—letters made out of twigs and yarn that spell out Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s powerful words: “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” We have our 5th grade students to thank for this poignant reminder of the urgent work we all have to do.

Please read on as teacher and Social Health Coordinator Ann Meany shares some reflections on her time so far with the 5th grade students, how this project came to be, and how the students “seem to know that this is their work, and this work makes them feel more human, alive, and emboldened to learn about the plights of others so they can make the world a better place.”

You can look forward to hearing more from our 5th grade students in our upcoming Festival of Justice and Freedom. Thank you, Ms. Meany, and thank you 5th grade!

From Ann Meany, Grades Assistant Teacher and Social Health Coordinator:

The fifth grade and I have started a new block together, with our focus being on art and movement. On the first day of class, I showed the students a picture of one of my recent sculptures, called Reparations. I asked the students if they knew what the word “reparations” meant. They didn’t. I told them it was related to the word “repair.” We talked about the reparations that were proposed to freed slaves—a donkey and 40 acres of land—and how this offer never materialized.

We discussed how this lack of ‘repair’ for the trauma and injustice of slavery is one of the many ways that African Americans have been denied opportunity by white people in this country. One student raised their hand to share that they thought Native Americans also deserved reparations. Another student shared that their relatives had been in internment camps and had not been treated well. The interest living within this group of students about social issues and their curiosity about justice is palpable.

This week, I shared my favorite phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which is, “the fierce urgency of now.” After sharing what this phrase means to me, I asked the students to write a paragraph about what it means to them. I enjoyed reading the variety of issues they felt passionate about. Several students volunteered to share what they wrote with our community, as part of our upcoming Festival of Justice and Freedom that will be released next week.

In honor of MLK’s birthday and the recent inauguration, we wanted to do something and share it with our community. Several of the students collected sticks, which we used to construct the letters in “the fierce urgency of now.” The letters were wrapped with colorful yarn so that they would stand out as they hung outside on the school fence. I hope you have a chance to see their work. It is beautiful. 

This class is exciting to be a part of. There is a lot of energy. I feel like they are chomping at the bit; excited to get out and make a difference in the world, but they also understand that they have some things to learn. On Friday, when I asked the 5th graders to read a book about bullying, there were no complaints.  They seem to know that this is their work and this work makes them feel more human, alive and emboldened to learn about the plights of others so they can make the world a better place.

Scenes from the 5th grade: busy hands hard at work crafting each letter of "the fierce urgency of now" out of twigs and yarn; students excitedly crowd around a laptop to say "hello" to their classmate who is learning from home; the entire class stands behind the fence, showing peace signs and thumbs up for their new installation!

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