Schools in New York are desegregating in 1971, and Jamila, Josie and Francesca's plans to attend their primarily white neighborhood school in Queens are dashed. Instead, they'll be bused to a primarily African-American school an hour away.
The rising 7th grade best friends, each of mixed racial and cultural backgrounds, go three very different ways -- one to private Catholic school, with uniforms and bean bag chairs, and the others to the new public school, JHS 241, where one will enter the regular school population and the other will stay in the SP, or Special Program of accelerated curriculum (mostly math).
The three stay friends, through thick and thin, not always liking each other or the choices they make, but they're there for each other when it matters most -- and the new friends they make.
While their parents bandy around the rhetoric, ideals and aims of desegregation, the girls live it, in the worst possible environment (middle school is h*ll for most students, period), and it comes at a steep price -- but it has its subtle joys, as well.
The story tackles many important issues in addition to prejudice, which is confronted on almost every page. For instance, one girl is "ability tracked" in math. It's the practice of placing students in math classes according to prior testing results, thus limiting what students can achieve by limiting their progression through math classes. My son experienced this in middle school, when his principal suddenly limited the math offered to all 8th graders in order to increase the school's standardized testing scores. It has devastating effects on achievement in high school and for college recruitment.
The girls also explore their budding sexuality. There is a scene that could be interpreted as the aftermath of a sexual assault, but nothing is graphic by any means and what exactly happens is left to interpretation. Better readers will pick up on it, and teachers should be prepared to discuss what their students think has happened to the girl (it's ambiguous), how the other girl treats it, and the importance of reporting sexual assaults.
The end was bittersweet.
It was featured in a School Library Journal blog post and consists of a long, very good list of "Teaching Ideas and Invitations," but does not offer actual lesson plans for teachers to use. There are also, currently, no comprehension questions offered for this book, as it's so new.
If you teach this book and write lessons you'd like to share, or a set of comprehension questions to evaluate your students' progress in the text, please post a comment and let me know. I've love to hear from you!
School Segregation Lesson Plan
I've written about this website before, CarolinaK12.org. It has some absolutely awesome lesson plans and if you write to the administrators, you can receive free teaching materials. I did so after reading and loving their "School Segregation" lesson plan.
1. I modified it for my state's Social Studies Common Core standards.
2. I added to the PPT (in my own version, not in the one I'm posting here) the lesson information about Linda Brown, the Little Rock 9, Ruby Bridges and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
3. I orchestrated the "UN-equal Simulation" to introduce the unit, using old write on/ wipe off slates, re-arranging the classroom so all the resources were on one side, etc. Students wrote a reflection essay after the simulation, to heighten their empathy and personal connections to the unit.
4. Students used a Guided Note taker for notes.
5. I picked which supplemental materials for students to read at the end, depending on my state standards and how much time we had left. (Brown v. Board of Education).
There just wasn't time to do everything in this awesome LP, and students could really connect with the concept of segregation, especially after doing the simulation.