(View clips from some of our fifth graders' HerStory Day videos above!)
Gr. 5 HerStory Day, held on Tuesday, March 16, was a special celebration of the lives of pioneering historical women. Through creative films, podcasts, short stories, comics, and even digital escape rooms, fifth graders retold the stories of a host of famous and lesser-known female figures—including Polly Cooper, an Oneida woman who took part in a 1777 expedition to aid the Continental army during the American Revolution; Patience Wright, America’s first professional sculptor; and Elizabeth Freeman, the first enslaved African American woman to file and win a lawsuit for freedom in Massachusetts and whose case helped end slavery in the state.
HerStory Day, which was held virtually so that families could take part in the celebration, marked the culmination of many weeks of study and production. Fifth graders worked closely this winter with Language Arts teacher and librarian Evelyn Schwartz and Social Studies teacher Sherry Wells to conduct research, sift through facts and identify those most essential, craft a written narrative to fuel their final project, and create their final presentation.
Students also had opportunities for written and verbal reflection on the project, which helped them examine similarities and differences between themselves and their figure—and identify which of the Holton Lower School ePortfolio goals their individual most embodied. Girls noted, for example, Polly Cooper’s great perseverance and Elizabeth Freeman’s determination to stand up for what is right. (“I stand up for what is right, too,” said one student.)
The project and day have evolved significantly over time. For many years, fifth-grade Social Studies had a culminating spring event called Colonial Day, but Wells has been shifting the focus over the past few years—and changed the name last year—to make the day more inclusive and spark more connections for the girls.
“I wanted to focus on the stories in history that weren’t being told: the stories of Native Americans, of African American enslaved peoples, of women,” Wells says. “The event also happens during Women’s History Month, so I wondered, ‘Why not focus on that?’ We don’t typically hear as much about women and what they have done throughout history.”
This year’s event gave students a bit more freedom to select women from different eras and lots of liberty in selecting their storytelling medium. Students enjoyed the new presentation formats, particularly the virtual escape rooms (similar to “choose your own adventures”) and podcasts, both of which they specially requested.
“HerStory gives us an opportunity to take a fresh look at American history through the untold stories of women,” says Schwartz. “And these new storytelling formats are not only perfect for this time of hybrid learning and events, but also both fun for the girls and useful in building out their digital skills.”
After last year’s event, says Wells, “we started to get some of those sparks. Students began to really think and talk about, for example, ‘What would my role have been had I lived during this earlier time and how would that differ from my current life?’”
Even and especially in this socially distant time, it’s still all about helping students make these critical connections.