Stephanie Hoos, English Faculty and Middle School Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator, supports her Grade 8 students in reflecting meaningfully on their own and others' beliefs. Ms. Hoos describes her objective as "supporting curiosity in students and engaging with deeper questions through the overarching concepts of windows and mirrors. Windows give us a point of view into another person's space, perceptions, world views, thoughts, and feelings. Mirrors give us greater insight into ourselves and ask us to think critically about our own beliefs and behaviors."
Aligned with the Academic Excellence and the Inclusion pillars of the King School Strategic Plan 2020-2025, Ms. Hoos has evaluated and reshaped the curriculum for the Grade 8 English program. This fall, for example, the students discussed the Muslim-American experience both pre and post September 11, 2001 from the national and international perspective using the novel All We have Left by Wendy Mills.
The learning environment itself, in addition to the texts chosen, is a crucial component impacting the student experience. Guided by Ms. Hoos, the students nurture a classroom culture that Ms. Hoos says,
"includes engaging in pre-reading norms that we establish before embarking on any cultural and conversational venture. For example, as students begin reading the historical fiction graphic novel The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell, we will discuss the historical significance of the n-word and its current usage in pop culture. Alongside that discussion, we will develop our own understanding of how we comport ourselves as King students around the issues of toxic hate speech. As such, we engage in a window experience of viewing the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee's struggle for Civil Rights in 1960's Houston, Texas right alongside our current Black Lives Matter movement and look at ourselves through the mirrors of our media, asking complicated questions of how hate speech makes it to our social media feeds, headphones, and playgrounds."
This contextual research and open dialogue accompanying the study of The Silence of Our Friends enables students to engage with the deeper questions, "What does activism look like in the past, present, and future?" and "What questions can I ask in order to upend the status quo and create change in my own space?" Charlotte Lewis '25 is looking forward to discussing the reading, explaining that The Silence of Our Friends is "about a white family and a black family who come together to free five black college students wrongly charged with murdering a policeman. In my opinion, it'll be a really great book to read especially since it involves the fight for civil rights, which is something that I believe we can all learn more about. I'm really interested and excited to see how we can learn more about the important topics that this book touches on. The semi-fictional story is rooted in the author's true experiences."
As Ms. Hoos reimagined the Grade 8 English curriculum, she determined that To Kill a Mockingbird did not serve the coursework, as she felt "it does not tell the full story of human experience in a time of great upheaval in our society." She chose, instead, to create space in the curriculum for further exploration of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and ability. Looking ahead to the third quarter, students will have the opportunity to address even deeper questions around gender identity, sexuality, and affinity spaces.
Learn more about King Middle School and how the reading and writing program across the school equips our PreK-Grade 12 students with a set of tools enabling them to read, think, write, and speak about a text on personal, communal, and global levels.