Past Grants

Salem: A Musical History

The scene was set.

The upper rooms of historic Hamilton Hall were filled with late afternoon light. Young dancers, decked out in period gowns with hoop skirts and linen shirts with vests, curtsied and bowed to each other before beginning an intricate version of the Virginia Reel. Rapt parents, grandparents and sometimes restless younger siblings looked on from nearby tables with pride. It was a scene out of time, but what made it so extraordinary is that it took place just one week ago.

Salem Public School music teachers Jen Aldrich and Ben Chertok, working with local folk musicians Jim and Maggi Dalton had been preparing students for this moment for six weeks in their after school hours. Students in grades 4&5 learned six different dances along with many period songs and on this day, held “dance cards” which reminded them of their partners for each of the sets. Between sets, participants cooled off with ice cream and stood in groups, laughing and chatting with far less formality than they might have in 1850.

Parents had their roles to play as well. Though on this day, their primary job was simply to watch and enjoy their children’s accomplishments, they had been kept busy sewing costumes to make the event even more authentic. Given fabric and patterns during early rehearsals, they were tasked with recreating 19th century garments; full length gowns for the girls, ruffled shirts, vests, jackets and knee breeches for the boys.

Jen Aldrich, the teacher who came to SEF with her vision of this event, says she came up with the idea of the program in part because, “I have often been concerned about the lack of dance education in our country; I feel this is an expressive art form that too often gets ignored though it can have some very positive impacts on our students.” Pairing dance and music seemed a perfect combination and using an 19th century model allowed students to gain a better appreciation for their city’s important role in history. “This is all a part of integrated learning, and we have all we need right here in our city – what an awesome opportunity!”

A (Field) Trip Through History

If academics are opportunities for the mind, so are field trips opportunities for the senses. This was never more true than during a field trip to the National Park Service Maritime Site in Salem, as students in Collins Middle School’sLife Skills Enrichment Program found out on August 2nd. As they lay in swaying hammocks below decks on the Friendship, looked through the time-transporting telescopes on Derby Wharf and smelled coffee and cinnamon imported from the Far East in the Custom House, they were learning about the history of Salem in a way that was much more powerful than anything that they could be taught in the classroom.

They were also learning about what Maryanne Zujewski of the National Park Service calls the “Power of Place”. She believes that having the opportunity to walk in the literal footstep of the sailors, captains and ship-owners of old builds meaningful visceral connections for modern-day students of history. And for students in this program, who all have some learning-related delays, visceral learning is doubly powerful.

Though students in the Life Skills Enrichment Program work hard throughout the year building important day-to-day skills, these trips offer an opportunity for spontaneous skill building that cannot be recreated in a classroom. As Leo Higgins, the Life Skills Teacher for the class explains, “Taking these trips allows our students to put practical applications to what they are learning all year long. Through their successes, they are each able to build confidence in their own ability to be part of the community around them.”

Other planned trips for the summer include travel by subway, bus and boat. Students will visit Fenway Park, fish and picnic at Winter Island and stroll around Faneuil Hall. Staff hope that the learning students will gain on these trips will extend far beyond the summer. By referencing students’ experiences at the National Maritime site and other destinations, staff will be able to advance learning throughout the next school year as well as make sure that students do not lose any of the practical gains that they have made during the previous school year.

Watching the students walk the length of Derby Wharf on this warm August afternoon and thinking about all those that came before them provides a reminder of just how much of our learning has always resulted first and foremost from our experiences.


Have you ever seen the world from the inside?

On October 21st, students at Collins Middle School were able to glimpse a strange view of our beautiful planet – backward and 2 stories tall. EarthView is a program offered by nearby Bridgewater State College and on its journey to local schools, the globe is joined by a team of educators. “To see the world in its entirety like this is to appreciate the interconnections that one place has with every other place,” said Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan, Professor of Geography and one of the team members. On the recent visit to CMS, the essential question was about how environments and cultures affect each other. Students learned about the makeup of the Earth’s waters (97% salt water, 2% ice and only 1% freshwater) and about important geographical features including tectonic plates, archipelagos and the Ring of Fire.

Educators at Bridgewater State College began this program in 2008 when they wanted to underline the importance of having a geographically literate society. According to the BSU website, “the goal of the program is not only to teach students about the world, but also to emphasize the need for more geography instruction in primary and secondary schools.” “Almost no geography is taught beyond the 7th grade,” said Rosalie Sokol, the educator who leads the students on their tour of EarthView’s interior. “This is unacceptable in a world that is becoming increasing globalized, where we must know about the places that make up our world. The EarthView is a great dramatization of a globalized world and we are eager to bring the study of geography to our students using this unique and effective tool.”

As we watch the excitement on the faces of students grasping for the first time the three-dimensional entirety of our planet, we can see that it is working.

To get more information about the EarthView program, click here

To link to the Massachusetts Geographical Alliance website, 

Hispanic Heritage and the Other American Lit

The American Dream is a concept that we are all aware of. As Americans, we like to believe that in our country, anyone can be part of the community and through hard work, prosper and succeed. But in our heart of hearts, we know that it is not that simple.

This fall, 9th and 10th grade students at the Salem Academy Charter School have worked hard to educate themselves about the true “Immigrant Experience”. By reading books like Francisco Jimenez’ Breaking Through,Judith Ortiz Cofer’s An Island Like You, and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, students heard original accounts of immigrant or first-generation experiences. Some then went on to interview immigrants in their own lives, hearing first-hand about what it is like to adapt to new traditions, cultural norms and languages. Others worked to express their own opinions through original response poems entitled “What Does Your America Look Like?” Still others wrote poems and essays to paint a picture of the immigrant experiences that they had heard, read about or experienced. And they did so in front of their school community.

On October 19th, 2011, SACS hosted its first ever Hispanic Heritage Night. Amidst posters, interactive displays and plates of home-cooked Hispanic delicacies, students presented their work for classmates, families and guests.

Denise Granniss, the teacher who developed the project for her High School students, envisioned it as a way to make students “a little more proud of their heritage, a little more empathetic to the struggles of others and more appreciative of the opportunities America offers.” She also saw it as a way to encourage Hispanic families to feel welcomed and valued. To assist with this mission, SACS families prepared all of the food for the night and the entire evening was presented in both English and Spanish.

The event was a great success (so much so that the food eventually ran out!) For Ms. Granniss, one highlight of the evening was a performance entitled “The American Dream”. Though it was not part of her original plan for the project, her own students had decided to create a unique performance from the poems they had read. Their creativity and effort in mastering the difficult verbal choreography was extremely moving. More so was the pride that students seemed to take in their cooperative efforts throughout the night.

Perhaps the most significant evidence that the evening was successful occurred in the days after the event. Already Ms. Granniss has received calls volunteering to help with next year’s Hispanic Heritage Night. She has also heard rumblings about a plan for a similar night to celebrate Black History Month in February. For now, she’s ready to rest up for a while.