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January 31, 2023

Teaching Children Diversity

Hayes Cooper Center’s program supports written creativity

By Angela Rogalski

The Bolivar Bullet

Melanie Bray is a fifth grade Language Arts teacher at Hayes Cooper Center in Merigold. Bray started a program in 2011 that integrates fiction and non-fiction to teach children about human rights and diversity. She said it’s still a big part of her classroom assignments because the children love it and learn from it.

“This program also integrates history into our reading class in a fun and exciting way,” said Bray. “I start the project with the events leading up to the Civil War and go through the Civil Rights movement all the way up to what’s going on in our world today. We discuss human rights, equality and diversity. Our school has a great mix of ethnicities and cultures and we just all blend together beautifully.”

Bray said one of the exercises that she had the children do was write a letter to an older member of their family to find out if they ever had any experience with prejudice of any kind.

“Hopefully through this exercise, the children can learn how the world has changed for the better and how they as fifth graders can continue to change it in a more positive way,” said Bray. “We’ve gotten some amazing letters throughout the years that I’ve been doing this. The children just love to read them all. And these letters sometimes produce things that grandparents and great-grandparents might not necessarily talk to them about because in some cases it can be difficult memories, but they’ll write it down. And then when the children are reading the letters, it really opens up a dialogue and makes them think. It’s really an amazing project.”

Bray said over the years the letters have consisted of many kinds of prejudices that people have faced, from racism to not getting a job because of gender or weight. 

“We had someone write about being discriminated because they were Catholic,” she said. “The children learn about these kinds of discrimination that people have endured over the years and learn not to take their freedoms for granted. It has been a great educational program for our kids to go through.”

Bray came up with the idea while teaching students in Rosedale as a way for them to learn about history and to show them they could achieve anything with hard work and determination.

“Watching the children learn about where they came from and history and making the world a better place, it’s just really exciting. And during the project they also write a research paper on any type of discrimination that they want to talk about. And one of the questions they have to answer is whether the discrimination they are writing about is a problem today in the United States or anywhere in the world and if so what’s being done about it. And when they research their chosen topic, they find out so much about the world they live in.”

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