A new local program is spreading positive messages about diversity to elementary school students, through donated books and support for teachers.
Listening Library, a pilot initiative sponsored by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Hours Against Hate program, is putting children’s books with themes related to diversity into elementary classrooms in three participating school districts. It’s to help spark conversations among students, parents and educators about themes like inclusion, advocacy, and similarities and differences.
“Everything that we know about the research in education and talking about identity and race is that it has to start when children are young,” said Rona Wolfe, who taught kindergarten for 28 years and is now a consultant about social-emotional, anti-bias learning. “It has to be reflected in the classroom; it has to be taught intentionally.”
Working with Hours Against Hate coordinator Andrea Bernstein, Wolfe curated 12 picture books that the Listening Library program is donating to each participating educator throughout the 2020-21 school year. The books are intended for educators to read aloud, and each comes with a packet of reflection questions and activities that Wolfe created to help teachers lead classroom discussions. The books remain in the classrooms, and the packets include ideas about ways students and teachers can continue to work on those themes.
“We’ve heard that students are requesting to have the books read repeatedly,” Bernstein said.
In addition, the Listening Library program provides regular training sessions via Zoom, aimed at helping participating educators reflect on their own biases.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue group with teachers that allows space for self-reflection,” Bernstein said. “We’re creating a space where teachers can try to help each other check their own blind spots.”
Three school districts are participating in the pilot program, which runs throughout the school year: Kettle Moraine, Baraboo and Burlington. At least three educators are participating in each district. Bernstein’s vision is that they become leaders in their districts, spreading insights and resources to other teachers.
The issue of racism in Burlington made national headlines this fall after a fourth-grade teacher received backlash from some parents for teaching about systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Darnisha Garbade, a local parent and activist, said her Black children have experienced racism at Burlington-area schools. She helped bring the Listening Library program to the district.
“I’m hoping white children will be able to see positive images of people of color,” Garbade said.
“The Jewish community is interconnected with the broader community,” Bernstein said. “When we all embrace our pluralistic society and really learn how to understand differences while also finding connections with each other, that’s an environment in which we can thrive.”
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Hours Against Hate Listening Library books
The books in the Listening Library program cover themes related to diversity and inclusion. Here are a few of the books currently in use:
“Enemy Pie” by Derek Munson and Tara Calahan King
Jeremy learns a secret recipe for dealing with an enemy: spend a day playing together.
“All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman
A day in the life at a school where children of all backgrounds are celebrated.
“Be Kind” by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
After Tanisha spills grape juice on her new dress, her classmate wants to help, leading to an exploration of other ways to show kindness.
“Milo’s Museum” by Zetta Elliott and Purple Wong
After Milo visits a museum and notices that people in his community aren’t reflected in the exhibits, he decides to start his own museum.
“A Moon for Moe and Mo” by Jane Breskin Zalben and Mehrdokht Amini
Two friends—one Jewish, one Muslim—become friends after they’re mistaken for brothers.