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Harrison seventh graders learn about Afghanistan

Posted Friday, January 15, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - During the recent holiday season, students at Perry Harrison School learned that most people in Afghanistan would not be getting presents and about other struggles citizens face.

In a Perry Harrison language arts class taught by Rocquel Erman, students read a book called The Breadwinner. This book was about a fictional girl called Parvana. In the book, Parvana goes through struggles that American students could not imagine. The is story is fictional, but Ellis wrote the book based on what she saw in Afghanistan when she visited. Children witnessed their parents being arrested for going to school, or being punished for going outside. Parvana had to take charge of her family even though she had to disguise herself as a boy and sneak outside right under the Taliban’s strict law and many members. Even though Parvana is fictional, this book gave the class a good idea about how hard life was in Afghanistan, especially for girls and women.

Seventh grade students used magazines, the Internet, and books in Dawn Streets’ social studies class as unit resources. The students were learning about Afghanistan under Taliban control and the current situation in the country. At one point, the school counselor Sherri Little showed the students a magazine article about women in Afghanistan. She tied the curriculum into “Mix it Up Day,” an event in November during which the students were required to sit with different people at lunch. This situation was meant to reflect a part of the problem in Afghanistan: a lack of tolerance and respect for others. Students learned that people are alienated because of their race, their beliefs and where they went to school. As a result they gained a new appreciation for the school theme day. The students learned to see other people in a positive way. The students had lengthy class discussions about all of these topics, and many feel as though they learned and came to understand the situation in Afghanistan much better.

Students communicated with Craig Paulson, a direct contact in Afghanistan recommended by a Harrison staff member. Paulson works for General Dynamics Information Technology as a systems administrator. To communicate with Paulsen, e-mail was used and pictures were shared via the Internet and the LCD projector. Much of this technology is not available to most citizens in Afghanistan.

Paulson explained, “Modern conveniences are almost non-existent; there are cell phones used in the country but the service is very poor.”

In response to an email with student questions, Paulson said, “American children have the very best to offer because children in my part of the world have very little access to these electronic devices.”

What students of Perry Harrison School have learned through their studies and readings of the areas around Pakistan and Afghanistan has made a strong impact on their values on the welfare and lives of the inhabitants in these Third World countries. These students are currently supporting a new program called “Pennies for Peace,” which they learned about from Tom Campbell, a middle school ESL teacher. This is a non-profit organization where individuals donate pennies to improve communities through education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Donating a penny will make a difference in the young lives of children there, and it can open new doors to literacy. To get more information or to participate in the donation, visit

Students were able to work with Erin Denniston, the Harrison curriculum coach, to create a PowerPoint presentation to share with other students. All seventh grade students then wrote poems reflecting what they learned during the unit and presented these at a poetry event for seventh and eighth grade students.

The seventh grade teachers worked together to plan a unit that would have personal meaning for the students. Students came away from this project realizing how lucky they are to live in a country where they are considered to be free. Given the connections between the novel The Breadwinner, the seventh grade social studies Standard Course of Study, and the real-world current applications of lessons about Afghanistan, Campbell hopes to be a liaison, sharing this unit of study with Horton Middle School, North Chatham School, and Moncure. Through collaboration among students, teachers, schools, communities, and countries, everyone benefits.

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