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'It’s not a one and done situation' | Local teachers talk to their students about riots at US Capitol

Two JCPS social studies teachers spoke on their experience turning the events into a teachable moment.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Wednesday’s events at the U.S. Capitol left a lot of Americans confused, upset and scared.

While we were all watching the riots unfold, so were some of our youngest citizens.

That led social studies teachers to talk to their classes about what happened.

Kammerer Middle School teacher Sam Habeeb’s seventh graders had questions like:

“Why are people taking such extreme measures to get what they want?” and “Why do they want to have so much violence?”

You are allowed to support who you think should lead our country, but this is unacceptable. 

“I realize this is one of those events you can’t pass up from a teachable moment,” Habeeb said.

Habeeb used his class period on Thursday to go over what happened the day before.

“They have a lot of questions that are difficult to answer,” said Habeeb. “But I think just giving them the opportunity to ask those questions and discuss those questions together is meaningful and that was kind of what they needed at that time.”

RELATED: 'This is a very dangerous time in the history of our country': Louisville political experts weigh in on D.C. riots

Over in a Newburg Middle School virtual classroom, Daria Ochenkowski was having the same conversation with her sixth graders.

“I definitely fell into the trap of, do I do it or do I not,” Ochenkowski said.

With such a difficult, politicized topic – Ochenkowski made an important effort to present the events objectively, without any bias.

Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Jason Glass said if teachers avoid talking about the events, they’ll miss a teachable moment. But they should go in with five things: 

  1. Plan to cover the facts- In this era of instant information with variable quality, time needs to be spent sorting out what we know actually happened versus rumor, conjecture and unverified conspiracy theories.
  2. Be age appropriateConcepts such as congressional procedure, the Electoral College and complex legal arguments can be daunting topics for adults. Younger children may be much more interested in the emotions and actions of the individuals they may have seen on television or the news.
  3. Create a safe space for emotional response- The events of Jan. 6 involved anger, shouting and violence. This may trigger some students emotionally and they should be encouraged to identify and express what they are feeling. This should be received without judgment. It is OK to be angry or fearful and the student’s emotional reaction is valid, whatever it is.
  4. Encourage questions and answer honestly- Students likely will have lots of questions about what happened. Some of these questions may have straightforward answers. Other questions may be much more complex – and much more interesting.
  5. Use these events as a jumping off point for deeper learning- What transpired presents numerous opportunities to practice skills such as critical thinking, complex reasoning, effective communication and leadership. It also presents an opportunity to delve into important social studies knowledge, content and skills from several disciplines

Students in both Habeeb and Ochenkowski’s classes put the riots in the context of race, and had questions about how this event compared to ones in the summer.

“One of the first comments was, 'if these people were Black they would have been dead,'” Ochenkowski said.

“You had a lot of kids making connections about the protests over the summer after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to Wednesday,” Habeeb said.

Both Habeeb and Ochenkowski want to keep having conversations like this with their classes – both about how Wednesday fits into history, and how it affects us today.  

“You don’t want to just let it fall and then it be a one day, done,” said Ochenkowski. “It’s not a one and done situation.”

►Contact reporter Rose McBride at rmcbride@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter. 

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