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ACE Grads Awarded $10K Grant to Boost Literacy Skills, Address Racism in Their Classrooms

Tim Will on Wednesday, 05 August 2020.

Photo Credit: Cristo Rey New York High SchoolPhoto Credit: Cristo Rey New York High School

ACE Teachers past and present can appreciate the pressures of preparing engaging lesson plans for their students on a day-in, day-out basis. It’s a tall task.

And in an age when a Google search for “teacher resources” can return millions of results within seconds, which tools can actually provide value to teachers and their students can be difficult to parse out.

ACE graduates Mary Grace Mangano and Amanda Pertierra recently shared their successes using resources from Facing History and Ourselves, which have opened up pathways for deep conversations and connections among their high-school students. Earlier this year, the duo secured an In-Depth Program Grant from the organization—valued at more than $10,000—for their students and fellow teachers at Cristo Rey New York High School.

Mary Grace Mangano - ACE 22, ChicagoMary Grace Mangano - ACE 22, ChicagoAn organization that reaches millions of students in thousands of classrooms every year through resources that address racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history, Facing History awards the IDP Grants to teams of two to four educators from middle and high schools from New York and New Jersey who have agreed to participate in their professional development, as well as use Facing History resources, pedagogy, and approaches in their courses for at least four weeks throughout the school year.

It started when, as a member of ACE 22 in Chicago, Mary Grace searched to locate resources for her middle school language arts classes at Saint Ann School

“I was teaching six different classes and trying to find any way possible to not reinvent the wheel,” she said. “I was looking for standards-based materials that had been vetted...and were free!”

Was that too much to ask? 

Apparently not, as a colleague introduced Mary Grace to Facing History, and she was immediately drawn to the resources.

“Facing History appealed to me as a language arts teacher because of their focus on literacy,” she said. “They aligned well with our curriculum and were engaging and meaningful for my students.”

A native of Clinton, New Jersey, Mary Grace moved closer to home after graduation and took a position with Cristo Rey, where she teaches English to freshmen and sophomores.

“When choosing the book list, I was excited to read Night and discuss the Holocaust with my students,” Mary Grace said. “Facing History helped to put this sensitive time in the proper social and historical context with their materials on the Holocaust and human behavior.”

Amanda Pertierra - ACE 21, BrownsvilleAmanda Pertierra - ACE 21, BrownsvilleMary Grace has continued to use and explore the unit plans and resources during her time at Cristo Rey, and was excited to learn that her colleague Amanda was also using them to start important conversations in her American history classes for juniors and seniors. Amanda has been a Facing History fan since her time at Guadalupe Regional Middle School in Brownsville, Texas, as a member of ACE 21.

“Facing History has everything from unit plans to current events resources to a strategy bank that gives teachers ideas for approaching important discussions about race and privilege in a classroom setting,” Amanda stated. “I wanted to make sure I was equipping myself with the tools to facilitate discussions about current events in a robust way, and these resources have helped me do that.”

Not only have these resources made a noticeable impact on the ways in which Mary Grace and Amanda approach their content areas, but both educators have also noticed more engagement from their students. 

“The materials are very student-centered, and we begin with a lot of self-reflection on broad, essential questions,” Mary Grace said. “It was so great to see many of my students apply those same questions to other concepts we were learning later in the year, as well as to the world around them.”

"Our students are in high school and they’re hungry for these conversations."

“Our students are in high school and they’re hungry for these conversations,” Amanda said. “That being said, if every conversation looks the same they will stop being as engaged. Facing History gives me additional ways to change up these discussion formats to keep things fresh for my students so they keep coming to the table with more and more ideas.”

The students are not the only ones coming up with the ideas. Due to Cristo Rey’s affiliation with the New York State Association of Independent Schools, Amanda and Mary Grace have had the opportunity to collaborate with Katherine Leo, the Facing History Program Associate for New York, a service that is also included as part of their IDP Grant. 

“She has been above and beyond amazing,” said Amanda. “I would send her an email with some ideas, and the next time she visited our school she had sticky notes all over these resources and ideas for projects with each of my classes. It was really wonderful to have not only a thought partner, but also a pedagogy coach who wants to work with you on these topics.”

The IDP Grant from Facing History also includes a full scholarship for two to four team members to attend professional development workshops over the summer. Due to COVID-19, these sessions have been moved online, and Facing History has extended the grant to include their seminars in the fall.

“The grant allows us to be more cohesive in terms of our approach to civic engagement, historical understanding, and literacy skills.”

“Everything we see from Facing History has been so helpful and we want to share that with our departments and other educators,” said Mary Grace. “The grant allows us to be more cohesive in terms of our approach to civic engagement, historical understanding, and literacy skills.”

Amanda was quick to point out how those elements have become increasingly important for students.

“We were so drawn to the literacy skills and the quality of the resources, but with the recent events happening around the country, our school had a town hall with our students to process what was happening on social media and around them,” Amanda said. “One of the takeaways is that our school community feels a need to have difficult conversations about race and privilege, particularly if we don’t share our students’ backgrounds, and even if we do.”

I think we all need to be able to sit with the discomfort from these events and be able to create spaces for students to process their feelings,” Amanda continued. “Facing History is ideally created for that work because they already have these professional development sessions in place.”

While Amanda and Mary Grace are excited to share Facing History with their colleagues, they might be most excited to introduce these resources to current ACE Teaching Fellows and their students.

“I would encourage ACE teachers to spend some time on the Facing History website,” Amanda said. “They’ve organized their resources into specific lesson plans for content areas and topics, but you can also search based on strategies.

“Once you have a better understanding of your school families and students,” she continued, “go back to those strategies and you’ll find materials that can easily be plugged into many different lessons.”

Mary Grace also encouraged teachers to reach out to the Facing History staff with any questions or ideas and concluded by highlighting the impact that programs like Facing History can have on the students in our nation’s schools.

“It’s only going to benefit our students if they are experiencing an interdisciplinary approach to learning this way.”

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