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
"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
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
"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."