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For Grades 9-12 , week of Jan. 30, 2023

1. Refugee Crisis 2023

These are desperate times for refugees around the world — and things may get worse before they get better. In 2023, an estimated 117.2-million people will be forcibly displaced from their homes or left stateless, according to United Nations Refugee Agency. That’s on top of the more than 100-million refugees forced to leave their homes and countries in 2022. That was the first time that the world’s refugee total had topped 100-million, the U.N. agency reported. This year, thousands of refugees are expected to flee war-torn Ukraine each month as the conflict with Russia continues. Tens of thousands more will flee from unrest in the Mideast nation of Syria; from famine, conflict and hunger in the African nations of Somalia and South Sudan, and from poverty and violence in Central and South America. To help some of these refugees find homes in the United States, President Biden’s administration unveiled a new program last week to allow groups of private citizens to sponsor refugees from around the world. Previously, the resettlement of refugees was handled only by federally funded agencies. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about refugees leaving different countries. Use what you read to write an editorial outlining ways the United States and other nations could best help these people seeking new and better lives.

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.

2. Candy Controversy

If you love candy, it’s more than likely you are familiar with the walking, talking M&Ms characters shown in TV ads for the sweet and colorful treats. The sassy, joke-telling figures have been “spokes-candies” and symbols for the popular brand for years and years. But now they are being taken off the air, victim of politics, controversy and … shoes. The Mars Wrigley company, which makes M&Ms, has announced it is taking “an indefinite pause” from the spokes-candies after changes to their footwear caused a ruckus about political correctness, “wokeness” and body image, the New York Times reports. The “culture wars” controversy got its start when the company changed the footwear of the two female figures in its ads, replacing the green M&M’s heels with flats and swapping the brown M&M’s tall and skinny stilettos for smaller, more comfortable heels (to see the changes, click here). When a purple M&M was added this month to “celebrat[e] women across the country who are flipping the status quo,” critics like conservative TV host Tucker Carlson flipped out over the creation of “woke M&Ms.” In response, Mars Wrigley said that since “even a candy’s shoes can be polarizing,” it would replace the characters it has used in ads since 1994 with the popular actress and comedian Maya Rudolph. Political correctness and “culture wars” have become a huge part of debate between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about some of the issues that have sparked “culture wars” debate. Use what you read to write a political column discussing how such issues have become prominent and the effect that is having on politics and government.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

3. Clean Support

In America and around the world, families living in poverty face many challenges. Food and housing are at the top of the list, but keeping clean and healthy is just as important. Yet many challenged families don’t have the resources to keep their clothes, teeth and bodies clean on a daily basis. In the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a program is providing those resources in an effort to combat what it calls “hygiene poverty.” Run by the Thompson family, the program offers free products that can help students and families keep clean and feel their best when they go to school or work, WPVI TV news reported. “We have toothbrushes, we have toothpaste, we have soap, we have body wash, we have shampoo,” said Rahim Thompson, founder of the Team Thompson Family Foundation. “When people think of poverty, they think of homelessness and hunger. They don’t think about hygiene.” The items distributed by the Thompson Foundation come from donations by corporate business partners, community groups and individuals. In 2022, the foundation was able to help 300 families, but in 2023 the goal is to help 1,000. Families living in poverty face many problems. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about some of those problems. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor outlining ways community groups or individuals could help families deal with these problems.

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

4. A Classical Blast

Thanks to artists like Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, classical music has produced some of the greatest works ever written. Yet with so many other types of music around, classical isn’t for everyone. It apparently is not for a group of homeless people living next to a 7-Eleven store in the city of Austin, Texas, the Washington Post reports. The owner of the store has started blasting classical music 24 hours a day in an effort to disrupt a camp of homeless people who moved in next door. Owner Jagat Patel said he had no choice but to take action after business dropped off dramatically when the homeless arrived. He said his customers stayed away after being confronted by people asking for help or money. Though classical lovers are likely alarmed, his tactic has seemed to work. Patel’s employees report fewer homeless people hanging around and business has picked up. Using music as a weapon isn’t new. Rite Aid stores in Los Angeles, California blasted old school music by Barry Manilow to keep homeless people away, and the city West Palm Beach, Florida did the same with the children’s songs “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos.” Music can cause strong reactions in people, especially if they DISLIKE it. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories and reviews of songs, artists or music you dislike. Pretend you are a music critic and write a review telling why you dislike a song, artist or type of music. Include how the music makes you feel and react in a negative way. Share with the class and discuss.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions.

5. Lights Out!

When people leave a building or a room, they frequently are asked to “turn out the lights.” For the last year and a half, that has been easier said than done at a high school in the state of Massachusetts. Due to a failure in the school’s computerized lighting system, officials haven’t been able to turn out the lights at the school since the summer of 2021! They’ve been burning day and night, month after month, running up huge electric bills for Minnechaug Regional High School in the western Massachusetts town of Wilbraham. Now, after delays, parts shortages and a complicated repair, teachers and other officials will finally be able to turn the lights off by the end of next month, the Associated Press news service reports. New equipment has been installed and software updated to allow the school’s 7,000 lights to be turned off and on at the 1,200-student school. And yes, a school official said, a remote override switch has been installed “so this won’t happen again.” Computer technology is great when it works, but a headache when it doesn’t. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about computer problems that have been experienced by companies, governments or individuals. Use what you read to write a paragraph explaining what happened, how it happened and the impact it had.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.