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Classroom of the Month: Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California

Berkeley High Jan 13- Allie teaching

This Classroom of the Month could easily be called School of the Month. This January, Six-Word founder Larry Smith and Bay-Area colleague Allie Wollner visited the famously activist Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California to explain what Six Words Fresh Off the Boat is all about. From freshman to seniors, students jumped enthusiastically on board to craft six-word immigration stories of coming to America.   

English teacher Carl Rogers heard about Six Words through Wollner. He loved the concept and invited Team Six to visit BHS. “Given the diverse population of students who are engaged in current events,” says Smith, “it was a perfect time to visit Berkeley High and invite their students to participate in our upcoming book.” (Six Words Fresh Off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America publishes this fall).

“The students brought vibrancy to the project,” adds Wollner. “It’s always a pleasure and a shot of life to run Six-Word workshops in high school classrooms.”

Smith and Wollner spent the entire day at Berkeley High, which gave them the opportunity to introduce the Six-Word Memoir Project to teachers and hundreds of students across campus. In addition to Rogers’ students, English teachers Karen Zapata, Dagny Dingman, Amanda Moreno, Madalyn Theodore, and Amanda Marini all hosted Smith and Wollner to teach their students the Six-Word Memoir form. “Allie and Larry introduced the whole concept in a series of workshops held in classrooms all over the school,” explains Rogers.

The results were diverse, clever, powerful, and poetic.  Here are a few examples showing a cross-section of American identity and coming to America stories penned by insightful teens:

  • Iraqi Jew escaping World War Two. —Claire E.
  • No, I don’t speak any Arabic. —Aamna A.
  • Sacrificed education making soap for money. —Tenaya M.
  • British and Icelandic, talk about white. —Will A.
  • Oh, where’s your name from, exactly? —Chloe
  • Hard for parents, easy for me. —Jakob K.
  • Three families sharing one small apartment. —Estefania R.
  • Two cultures, two languages, one girl. —Daphne E.  
  • Crepes over cereal; never tasted Cocoa Puffs. —Sophie M. (seven words, but so good!)

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With all these Six-Word Memoirs came creativity in expression around the classroom. “I put these Six-Word Memoirs up on the bulletin board and parents were able to see them at our yearly open house. I got so much positive feedback about the beauty and simplicity of the assignment,” says English teacher Karen Zapata.

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“I really appreciated the visit by the folks from Six-Word Memoirs because it allowed us to continue the very important work of building community in my classroom,” Zapata explains. “We do a lot of writing about identity and our experiences, but connecting so directly to our family’s origin story is something I have not been able to quite make it to. In a very short period of time, our classroom opened up to root experiences with immigration. Students were able to connect across difference, which is so important in these times.”

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Rogers, Zapata, and all of the teachers are delighted they could use Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom and offer their students an opportunity to be published. “It’s a great writing exercise,” says Rogers, “and it gives our students a voice and platform to tell their immigration stories. I love that all students can easily participate. Both the students and teachers who participated in the workshops found it empowering.”

Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world. Contact us (concierge AT smithmag DOT net) if you would like a copy of our free teacher’s guide.

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