Student Voices: From Prince Edward County to Brooklyn


<p>Students at Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn, New York>

Students at Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn, New York>

Students at Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn, New York
Giselle Castano with her students (Christian, Jonas, Laszlo, and Marc) at Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn, New York

How do sixth-grade students in 2013 understand an event that happened in 1959? How can teachers make a fifty-year-old story come alive for their students? Giselle Castano, a literacy teacher at Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn, New York, used With Good Reason.

When studying segregation, Castano and her sixth-grade students listened to a With Good Reason podcast, “The Legacy of Massive Resistance.” The students—Christian, Jonas, Laszlo, and Marc—heard the stories of three people who had been students in Prince Edward County during the years in which it was Virginia’s official policy to close public schools rather than integrate them.

Castano’s students wrote to With Good Reason about what they learned. In a letter to Associate Producer Elliot Majerczyk, Christian wrote, “I don’t think it is fair to let black and poor white students learn under a tree and in basements because schools were closed.” Jonas wrote, “I loved your radio show because you interviewed people who were kids at the time during the Massive Resistance and it showed a different perspective.”

“I like hearing about Everett Barryman, Jr. because he was in sixth grade when this history happened.” — Laszlo

In response to Majerczyk’s question about how she decided to use the With Good Reason show, Castano wrote that she tries to “expose [her] students to the stories of real people who were living in the time period. I’ve mostly used books, so this was the first time I used a radio show which was amazing. Hearing the voices of real people makes the history come alive in a way books cannot convey.” Listening to the story clearly helped Castano’s students better understand the complicated issues of Massive Resistance.

Listening to Dorothy Lockett Holcomb and other Prince Edward County students speak about their personal experiences in the early 1960s gave Castano’s sixth-grade students a more tangible understanding of a subject far from their daily lives. Student voices—those of people who were their own ages during the 1950s and 1960s—brought living, breathing history into their own classroom.

“What I think of your radio show is that it is pretty cool because you’re talking about history.” – Marc

With Good Reason produced two episodes about schools and civil rights in Virginia, “Strike” and “The Legacy of Massive Resistance.” Both were made possible by funding from the Robert Russa Moton Museum and were produced by Elliot Majerczyk. “The Legacy of Massive Resistance” won a Gabriel Award.

Mary McDowell Friends School is a Quaker school for children with learning disabilities in Brooklyn, New York. With Good Reason is a weekly public radio show from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, which features scholars discussing their work in literature, science, history, politics and the arts. Listen online, via public radio, or download  podcasts.