King Middle School commemorated World AIDS Day with a series of activities designed to provide teachable moments about a deadly disease that strikes too close to home for some. The No Place for Hate school took a cue from the Anti-Defamation League and designed work for students that included a quiz about the disease, hosting 10 panels from the AIDS Quilt Project, and an art project by students that will create a separate quilt for the school to showcase in its hallway.
Guidance counselors Shirley McCullough and Ronald Garlington partnered on the activities with Yori Aiyeola and Anthony DeCosta, who are completing an internship at King as part of their work on a master’s degree in school counseling at Clark Atlanta University. They recruited four “student ambassadors” – seventh-graders Jonathan Johnson and Marquis Trammell and sixth-graders Elizabeth Escandon and Mariela Macias – who had recently attended a day-long Power Over Prejudice conference at Georgia Tech.
Students spent their homeroom hour taking a pre-quiz about HIV/AIDS that led to classroom discussion and then a quiz to review topics such as how to contract the disease and the difference between HIV and AIDS. They then created “unity chains” that spoke to the disease and the need for greater awareness, understanding and prevention. Students in Alison Isabelle’s eighth-grade art class then fashioned artwork inspired by four words – hope, love, unity and remembrance – that would be assembled as tiles for the hallway “quilt.”
“We saw this as a visual tool to build awareness and to have some of the kids look at, read these inspiring words and learn something different today,” said DeCosta. Aiyeola, his classmate at Clark Atlanta, noted that this year’s theme for World AIDS Day is to encourage leaders to promote universal access HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support by the year 2010. “It’s important to make students aware of how AIDS has impacted on Fulton County,” Aiyeola said. “This was a perfect opportunity to introduce that notion to the students.”
That point was driven home moments later during a visit to Isabelle’s class as students made their initial drawings. Eighth-grader Toruse Sims drew a figure of a woman in the dress on the right with the words “Remembrance” and “Poo,” the latter the nickname of a family friend who had died of AIDS seven years earlier. He said he liked the creativity of the exercise: “I like how I get to free-draw what’s on my mind.” Nearby, classmate Brianna Taylor said she knew a friend, a recent high school graduate, who was living with the disease.
The student ambassadors saw all of this as a learning experience about HIV/AIDS in particular but also learning how to be more sensitive in general. Macias, the sixth-grader, was a perfect candidate for the conference; just a few weeks earlier a classmate had told the young Latina woman to “go back to Mexico.” But after attending the conference, she said, “It helped me think that when someone says something negative, that it’s going to come back to them some day.” Johnson also learned a lot, especially after participating in a group activity at the Power Over Prejudice Conference in which students wrote down initial impressions of the person next to them and then shared them with the group. “It made me realize how people look at you for the first time,” Johnson said.
Escandon, the sixth-grader, also learned a lot: “Before this program I didn’t really know what AIDS was except that it was a disease. Now I know that a lot of people in the world have AIDS. This also shows me how to show my own classmates how this school can be a better place.”
Trammell, the seventh-grader, appreciated how he can step outside himself and look at others with a fresh perspective: “You learn that just because you’re not like someone else doesn’t mean you should judge them. This helps me understand what others are going through.”