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Every year, I finish the year with my 8th graders studying the history and geography of New York City to get them ready for their class trip there in June.

We visit Central Park, so we study Central Park ahead of time. We spend time in Times Square, so we study that too. We visit the World Trade Center, Chinatown and the Lower East Side, so we study them, as well.

One place we visit, that I haven't always devoted enough time to, is Harlem.

For the past several years, one of the highlights of our trip has been visiting the Apollo Theater on 125th St. The students get a tour of the theater, hear stories about its history and even perform on stage. It's really memorable.

Except that our almost entirely white student population has no context to put any of it into.

Yes, we talk about African-American history throughout the year. We watch, discuss and blog about Roots. We discuss Jim Crow, Plessy Vs. Fergusson and segregation. I try really hard to relate how various historical topics - like Immigration or Jacksonian politics relates to African-Americans. But when it comes right down to it, our well-to-do, white students, who live in a homogenous, rural community in New Hampshire don't really have any way to relate to the Black Urban Experience.

So, this year, I decided to tackle the Harlem Renaissance.


 
 
 
 
I'm neck-deep in our final unit of the year - New York City.

One of the great things about this unit is it gives me a chance to spiral most of the concepts we have covered through the course of the year - Geography, Constitutional Issues, African-American History, the Civil War, Electoral Politics, and of course, Immigration.

By sheer coincidence, we covered the vocabulary word, "xenophobia" a week after this story ran on Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

The clip was very illustrative.