For Grades 9-12 , week of Jan. 31, 2022

1. A New Justice

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, with the power to review laws and lower court rulings to make sure they don’t violate the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. It is made up of nine justices who serve for life, so when one steps down, dies or leaves office the search for a replacement is a process of great significance. Justice Stephen Breyer has just announced he will retire at the end of the Court’s present term in June, and the process to replace him has already begun. Under the provisions of the Constitution, President Biden has the power to nominate a replacement, but the nominee must be approved by the U.S. Senate. At present that is a political challenge since the Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate. President Biden is expected to move quickly to find a replacement for Breyer and has said he will nominate an African American woman for the opening — the first in history. There is much discussion and debate over who President Biden will nominate to fill Stephen Breyer’s seat on the Supreme Court. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories and commentaries about potential candidates. Use what you read to write a political column about the selection process, and how important you think it is to choose an African American woman.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Changes to the SAT

For nearly 100 years the SAT exam has played a significant role in college admissions. For much of that time, the exam has been administered in paper booklets, with students filling in the multiple-choice answers with Number 2 pencils. Soon, however, big change is coming to the SAT. The College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the test, has announced the SAT is going digital and, even more significantly, will be trimmed from three hours to two. The changes will take effect at international test sites next year and at sites in the United States by the spring of 2024, the Washington Post newspaper reports. The test will be divided into two sections, one on math and one on reading and writing, each worth up to 800 points. “The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give and more relevant,” the College Board’s vice president of college readiness assessments said. Testing will continue to be offered at secure sites with “proctors” monitoring the behavior of students. There are no plans to offer the digital test to students at home. Changes in the way the SAT test is administered will have huge impact on the college admissions experience. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about how students and school leaders are reacting. With a partner, use what you read to create a survey about the SAT changes for students in your school. Write up the results of your survey in the form of a news story.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

3. A Gun Violence First

The rise in gun violence across the United States has prompted many communities to seek new solutions to the problem. One of the newest is being taken by a city in the state of California, and it is unprecedented. In an effort to control gun deaths and injuries, the city council in the city of San Jose has voted to adopt a first-in-the-nation ordinance requiring most gun owners to pay a fee and also to carry liability insurance that would cover damages caused by any gun they own. The goal of the measure, which is opposed by gun rights groups, is to encourage safer behavior and ease taxpayers from the financial burden of gun violence. Under San Jose’s measure, gun owners would be charged an annual $25 fee that would go to a nonprofit organization set up to reduce gun crimes and support victims of gun violence. The measure would also require gun owners to obtain insurance to cover damage caused by their weapon. People who fail to comply are subject to fines and could have firearms impounded “subject to a due process hearing,” the ordinance says. Efforts to control gun violence and gun ownership have led to controversy, debate and lawsuits all over the nation. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about different efforts and the reaction they have generated. Use what you read to write an editorial outlining how you think communities should respond to gun violence.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.

4. Incredibly ‘Bright’

Young Adult books are written for teens and pre-teens, but every once in a while one comes along that is so special it is loved by adults of all ages, too. “Ain’t Burned All the Bright” is one of those books, and it’s getting responses like “WOW!” and “SPECTACULAR!” from both adult and younger readers. Written from the point of view of a Black teenager, this new work from Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin is provocative, insightful, sophisticated and innovative and tackles issues teens, pre-teens and families have all been dealing with over the last two years. It’s written as “three very long sentences” over 300 pages, but each page reads like poetry paired with paintings that capture the emotions people have felt during the coronavirus epidemic. “Ain’t Burned All the Bright” is an artistic response to the turmoil of the coronavirus and other events. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories exploring other reactions people have had to the epidemic and other events of the last two years. Then read a sample of “Ain’t Burned All the Bright” here. Read the news for a day and write your reactions to it in the style of Jason Reynolds. Draw pictures or artworks to go with your writing in the fashion of Jason Griffin. Share with classmates and family.

Common Core State Standards: Demonstrating understanding of figurative language; applying knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts; using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points.

5. Message in a Bottle

When people go to the beach or seashore, they sometimes dream of finding a letter in a bottle, written by someone from far away. In the European nation of Ireland, a couple did just that not long ago. And when they tracked down the writer, they discovered a sweet, sad story to which they would add a happy chapter. The letter had been written three years ago by 11-year-old Sasha Yonyak of Ocean City Maryland, and thrown in the ocean while he was on a fishing trip offshore with his neighbor and friend, 62-year-old Wayne Smith. Sasha thought he would never hear of it again, until it turned up three years and 3,200 miles later on a beach in the town of Donegal in Ireland. The finders, Ciaran Marron and Rita Simmonds, tracked Sasha down through an Ocean City newspaper and discovered the story of the bottle had a sad twist. Smith had died two years after he and Sasha had tossed the bottle in the ocean, and Sasha’s family was still mourning his loss, the Washington Post newspaper reported. “This bottle reflects the friendship of Mr. Wayne and Sasha,” the boy’s father said. “Mr. Wayne is no longer with us, but what he did with Sasha is. His deeds are living.” Or as Simmonds said. “We think somehow Wayne had a part in bringing us all together.” The discovery of Sasha Yonyak’s bottle in Ireland helped him recover from his grief after losing his friend and neighbor Wayne Smith. It brought back happy things he and Smith had done together and introduced him to new caring people. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about someone dealing with grief or loss. Use what you read to write a letter to a friend outlining things you or others could do to help this person overcome their loss.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them.