New School Preparatory

Harlem Renaissance

By Catherine Hinman,
The Orlando Sentinel , Thursday, April 10, 1997

Students at New School Preparatory learned more than 1920's literature and history as they explored the era.

Kristen Bautz traces her fingers around the continent of Africa - a striking chalk drawing of blue, purple, green and yellow that seems electrified in its bluish gray setting. "I wanted Africa to be noticed," the sixth grader says. "That was the main thing."

Bautz's rendering is an interpretation of writer Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage" and is as much a testament to her knowledge of the history of the Harlem Renaissance as it is to her creative gifts.

Ditto that for her classmates from New School Preparatory who also have drawings and collages representing the Harlem period on exhibit at the Orange County Historical Museum.
The artwork is only a part of the New School's energetic approach to teaching history.

"You can study history in many different ways," teacher Karen Sorin said. "It doesn't have to be dull and dry."

Since mid-January, the 43 middle-schoolers at the New School have been studying the Harlem Renaissance - a decade from 1919 to 1929 in which there was an outpouring of black literature and music from the section of New York known as Harlem. The intelligentsia of the day embraced such writers as Cullen, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. And so have the sixth-, seventh- and eight-graders at the New School.

The fruits of their research include both the art and several music and dance performances - and a book written by students.

The exhibit will continue through April 16. The students' 20-minute performance will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at the museum. It will feature 25 students singing such songs as Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and dancing such period staples as the Charleston. Other students will recite poems from the period.

The book the students have written - called The Harlem Renaissance, 1920 to 1930: People Who Shared The Dream - will be published next week as a 120-page, clothbound history.

Sorin will be writing a chapter for a Harvard University professor's book on middle schools to describe how her students learned through publishing a book.

The lessons, of course, were many. They included researching not only the facts of the Harlem Renaissance but the historical context - what was happening in other parts of the country and world simultaneously. The students learned how to distill the essence of their information for the museum display and how to design an exhibit. They learned plenty, too, about teamwork.

"It wasn't just a couple of main people," said seventh-grader Jenni Haygood, who was associate editor of the book. "Everybody had to do their part."

In a lesson not to be underestimated, Sorin said her students found moving messages, especially in the relevance of the poetry of the period to their own lives.

"When you study history you are not studying isolated facts," she said. "You are trying to take a look at the importance, the significance of a period to our life now."

 

Quick Takes

In a lesson not to be underestimated, Sorin said her students found moving messages, especially in the relevance of the poetry of the period to their own lives.

"When you study history you are not studying isolated facts," she said. "You are trying to take a look at the importance, the significance of a period to our life now."

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