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For Grades 5-8 , week of June 15, 2020

1. An End to Chokeholds

It is often said that change comes slowly, but a significant change in law enforcement is coming quickly following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chokeholds, strangleholds and other neck restraints are being banned across the nation after Floyd died when a police officer put a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. In New York State, the state legislature passed legislation to ban such neck restraints by police, and the Washington, D.C. city council passed a police reform bill that includes a similar prohibition. The governor of California directed all police departments to discontinue teaching the practice, as departments in the cities of San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles announced plans to put a stop to it. Police in Denver, Colorado, and Phoenix, Arizona also said they would stop such practices. In Minneapolis, a judge has ordered the police to discontinue all use of neck restraint techniques. Nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd are already having an impact on law enforcement and the way police operate. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about changes communities are making or discussing. Use what you read to write an editorial giving your view on what changes are needed (if any), and why.

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. Historic Promotion

Four-star General Charles Q. Brown has broken barriers at every stage of his 35-year career in the U.S. Air Force. Now he has broken the biggest barrier of all: He is the first African American to be named chief of staff for the Air Force and the first to hold that position in any branch of the U.S. military. Brown was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate after being nominated by President Trump. As chief of staff, he becomes the highest-ranking military officer in the Air Force, and also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that advise the President and Secretary of Defense. Brown, who is 58, has been outspoken about racial issues in and outside the military, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of police this spring. In a video released before his confirmation, he declared that “my nomination provides some hope, but also comes with a heavy burden. I can’t fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix decades of discrimination that may have impacted members of our Air Force. I'm thinking about how I can make improvements personally, professionally, and institutionally, so that all Airmen, both today and tomorrow, appreciate the value of diversity and can serve in an environment where they can reach their full potential.” As protesters march in many cities, people are speaking out against inequality and racial injustice they have experienced. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about what different people are saying. Use what you read to write a letter to a friend outlining things you or your family could do to address inequality or injustice in your community or state.

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.

3. Impact from 9-Year-Old

These are doubly difficult times for the United States. First the coronavirus emergency forced communities to lock down to stay safe, and then the death of George Floyd at the hands of police prompted people to take to the streets in protest that Black Lives Matter. Both events have caused a lot of pain and anger, but also good will and caring. In the state of Minnesota, a 9-year-old girl has shown that in times of trouble you are never too young to help. After protests caused damage and destruction in the city of Minneapolis, Kamryn Johnson and five friends decided they wanted to do something positive. They started making string bracelets and selling them to raise money for food banks and for black businesses damaged in the protests. They hoped to raise a couple hundred dollars, which Kamryn’s dad, sportscaster and former NFL player Ron Johnson, said he would match. Then he mentioned Kamryn’s effort on the air, and the project went viral. Local people started donating $10, $20 or even $100 for the $5 bracelets, and Internet users started placing orders from all parts of the country. In just a week, Kamryn and her friends raised $40,000 for black-owned businesses and food banks. “Nothing can make you feel more optimistic for the future than a child who knows she can make a difference,” one supporter told the Washington Post newspaper. Everyone can make a difference by helping others in times of trouble. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about people who are doing that in response to the coronavirus emergency or George Floyd protests. Use what you read to write out ways you and your friends could make a difference. Write the words “I Could Make a Difference By …” at the top of a sheet of paper. Then list ways you could make a difference.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.

4. Support for a Business

Many businesses have been forced to close for good due to the coronavirus emergency. In the city of Columbus, Ohio, a barber and hair stylist thought that was what he was going to have to do with his three closed hair salons. And then help came out of the blue. A woman who had been a customer sent Byron Woods the $1,200 she had gotten from the federal government to help her survive the virus. “I've wanted to give the money to someone who needed it more than I, someone who would use it wisely, someone who was worthy of some help,” the woman wrote. “I am so impressed with all … you do for others.” Her unexpected gift helped him get back on track, Woods said, and an online fund-raising campaign started by his wife gave him support to pay his bills. The donations gave Woods “the inspiration to go forward,” he told the Washington Post newspaper. “More than anything, it left me with a feeling of ‘You matter — you’re essential and we need you.’” During the coronavirus emergency many people have stepped up to help others. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a person who has done this. Use what you read to write a short editorial explaining how this person’s action could inspire others to help people in their communities.

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.

5. Slavery Block Moved

When people sell things today, it’s often said they put them “on the auction block.” In times of slavery, an auction block was a real thing — a block on which slaves were forced to stand while buyers made bids on how much they would pay for each individual. One of those blocks stood for years on a downtown corner in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a painful reminder for African Americans and others of Fredericksburg’s slavery history. Now, as the nation re-examines civil rights as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, Fredericksburg has removed the 800-pound block and transferred it to a local museum. The museum plans to tell its story in the context of the slave market it represents and how that legacy has lasted for generations. As a local historian noted, “The block became an embodiment of the present and past pain in this community.” Many communities are re-examining traditions, artifacts, statues and more in light of changing attitudes about history, civil rights, injustice and inequality. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about communities doing this. Choose one and brainstorm an idea for a documentary film telling the story of this historical artifact or tradition, how some people want to change or address it and what opponents think.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points.