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For Grades 5-8 , week of Dec. 03, 2018

1. A City Tragedy

Thirteen-year-old Sandra Parks loved life and hated the way violence tears it apart. When she was in sixth grade she won a citywide award for an essay she wrote about gun violence in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Little children are victims of senseless gun violence,” she wrote, and “there is too much black-on-black crime.” Last week, two years after she warned about violence in her essay, Sandra Parks was killed by a stray bullet shot from outside that went into her bedroom. She was shot in the chest while watching television. Her death stunned the city. “It’s part of the insanity we see in Milwaukee,” Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters. “I look at where we are now as a city and it breaks my heart to stand here. As a dad, it breaks my heart.” Sandra’s mother was heartbroken as well. Her daughter, she said, “was everything this world is not.” Gun violence causes pain and sadness in both large and small communities. In the newspaper or online, read stories about cases where gun violence has involved students or young adults. Use what you read to write an essay of your own about the toll of gun violence, and what communities could learn from Sandra Parks’ death.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. The Right to Civics

The study of civics teaches students how governments are set up, how they and operate, why voting and elections are important, and the rights and responsibilities people have as citizens. American schools used to teach civics routinely to high school and middle school students. Many schools do not do that any more, and a group of students in the state of Rhode Island feels that is depriving them of knowledge they need to vote and be informed citizens. They feel so strongly about this that they have filed a federal lawsuit against the state arguing that the failure to offer civics education to all students violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution. They contend in their suit that the failure to offer civics to all violates the guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” detailed in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to know,” 17-year-old Aleita Cook told the New York Times. Knowing how elections work, how to learn what candidates stand for and what rights and responsibilities people have are all important to being an informed citizen. In groups, discuss things you would like to know more about regarding voting, elections, governments, rights, responsibilities and the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Share topics as a class. Then have each group research one topic, and present its findings to the class.

Common Core State Standards: Responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. Goodbye, Junk Foods

Eating sweet and salty “junk foods” can cause people to gain weight and experience long-term health problems. Numerous medical studies have shown that fast foods, sodas and snacks can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions. And advertising often persuades people to eat “junk” rather than healthy alternatives. To address that problem, the European city of London, England is taking a stand against junk food advertising. Starting in February, junk food advertising will be banned from the city’s public transportation network. The ban will affect all foods and non-alcoholic drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar. Advertising can have a huge influence on the food choices people make. In the newspaper or online, study food ads that appear over several days or a week. Keep a log of how many food items are “junk foods” like snacks or fast food and how many are more healthy choices. Create a pie chart or bar graph to show your results. Then present your findings to the class and analyze them.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; organizing data using concrete objects, pictures, tallies, tables, charts, diagrams and graphs.

4. Returning Treasures

Art treasures from around the world can be seen in museums in many countries. But many of them were removed from their homelands without permission by explorers or government visitors. Now museums and government leaders are taking a new look at what to do about artworks that were stolen or taken without authorization. In the latest case, the European nation of France has announced it will return 26 works of art taken from the African nation of Benin more than 100 years ago when Benin was a French colony. The works were taken from the palace of King Behanzin, when France claimed control of the region in 1894. French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the pieces returned “without delay,” and many more may follow. According to a government study, French museums now hold least 90,000 artworks that came from African nations south of the Sahara Desert. For hundreds of years museums collected and displayed artworks and artifacts from other cultures to show what those cultures were like. But in doing this they did not consider the impact on the cultures they were taken from. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about museums re-examining their collections. Pick one and write a paragraph or short paper about what it is doing — or what it ought to do.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

5. Deadly Overdoses

The opioid epidemic has affected communities all across the nation, and new statistics show just how deadly this drug problem has become. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just reported that drug overdoses killed 70,000 Americans in 2017 — the most ever for a single year. Use of the synthetic opioid known as fentanyl was a key factor in the record number of deaths, the CDC said. Synthetic drugs are more potent and deadly than opioids like heroin, and even small amounts can trigger overdoses. The 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017 was greater than totals for car crashes or gun violence in peak years, the CDC said. Communities across the country are struggling for ways to combat the opioid epidemic. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about what local communities, state governments and the national government are proposing for dealing with the crisis. Use what you read to write a letter to a state leader, a U.S. congressman or a U.S. senator outlining things you would like to see done.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.