5th graders uncover Nashville’s Black history

Students in Fifth Grade Social Studies Teacher Connie Fink’s class explored the history of their hometown during a study of Nashville's historic African American communities and presented their work Saturday, May 11 at Fort Negley.
By Ian Dinkins, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications 

There is nothing like learning about local history on the land where it happened. Students in Connie Fink’s fifth-grade social studies class were able to do just that during their lesson on Nashville’s Civil Rights history, which included learning about, visiting, and hearing from hallmarks of Nashville’s illustrious history.

Culminating their lesson, students will present “Nashville Uncovered,” an immersive theater performance about Nashville’s history, at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 11 at Fort Negley. 

With pioneers like Diane Nash and Ernest “RIP” Patton on the forefront, Nashville has had a long history of civic leaders making their mark on the city.

The students began their lesson by visiting Bass Street and Fort Negley, a key location during the Union’s capture of Nashville during the Civil War. Prior to the trip, students worked in small groups using primary and secondary sources to learn about Fort Negley and Nashville’s first post-Civil War Black community, Bass Street. Then, they were able to see the history with their own eyes. 

The project highlighted the cross-curriculum between classes in fifth grade, as evidenced by students working with Fifth Grade English Teacher Lauren Gage to identify primary and secondary sources for their extensive research during the project. 

“Even though this was a history project, we really appreciated Ms. Gage’s help when we had to learn how to research properly,” said Lauren Koethe '31.

That same collaboration gave students the chance to learn about recreating some of the history through different classes.

Students worked with MS Art Teacher Emily Holt to create the puppets needed for their presentation of “Nashville Uncovered.”

“Students used everything from clay and paper mache to make the heads of the puppets, and then constructed the bodies using bamboo,” said Holt. 

Zoey Wei '31 and Maddie Kim '31 each had a particular interest in putting the pieces together for the story that will be told during the performance.

“My favorite part of the project was putting together the puppets and props that will be used during the show,” Zoey said.

“Writing the script and putting that together for the final project was my favorite part of the lesson,” Maddie said. 

After field trips that saw them travel across Nashville, the fifth grade was able to have two local changemakers come to them when Assistant Director for State Programs at the Tennessee Historical Commission Linda Wynn, a Professor of History at Fisk University, and Community Activist Eloise Freeman visited students in the Gordon Multipurpose Room.

The two icons spent the morning walking students through some of the pivotal moments and figures in Nashville’s Civil Rights history, answering questions from students, and sharing what the city was like during their era.

“I was able to ask them what their favorite part of learning Black History was as we were learning it, so that was pretty cool,” said Elijah Woodruff  '31.

The visit from Wynn and Freeman turned out to be one of the project's highlights for Maddie, who said, “It was just cool to learn that there were women during this time who were also doing the work. Not just the men.”

"While students at USN study history from all over the world during their time at 2000 Edgehill Ave., this learning experience on the history that happened in their backyard not only captivated them but will also allow them to be even better citizens as they make their mark on the city and beyond," said Fink.

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University School of Nashville models the best educational practices. In an environment that represents the cultural and ethnic composition of Metropolitan Nashville, USN fosters each student’s intellectual, artistic, and athletic potential, valuing and inspiring integrity, creative expression, a love of learning, and the pursuit of excellence.