What gives me confidence – when I saw your projects – was the integrity and compassion and research and imagination that went into the projects. You give me hope. When I’m old, I’m going to be calm knowing the world will be in your hands and you’re going to do a great job with it. You will help make our country and the world the best it can be.” These were words spoken by American author Laurie Halse Anderson (LHA) to Grade 4 Mount Vernon students in response to their Unsung Heroes project.
During an Inquiry Based Learning Unit in response to the social injustices going on in our country, students read LHA’s book, Forge, the second book in the Seeds of America Trilogy. “You looked at unsung heroes – I really cried. We struggle in this country trying to understand the history of slavery in the United States and how people of color and Black families are still affected. “The projects you made reminded us that we are talking about HEROES – in the most difficult of circumstances they rose to the occasion and chose the side of goodness and light and freedom. These are examples I wish all American children could learn from!”  During their project, students were challenged to celebrate an unsung hero in American history and construct a monument that would be fitting for them. Watch Grade 4 students and teachers share more about their projects below.
While creating their projects, students were hopeful that they would have the chance to share their creations with their inspiration LHA, and after a lot of Tweets, their wish came true! Wednesday, April 14, the Grade 4 classes were joined by the author via Zoom, and the excitement from teachers and students, alike, was off the charts. The students came prepared with 12 questions to ask her, and each was professionally posed by a student. Their questions ranged from wonders about the book to questions about LHA’s personal inspirations and childhood. Not only did the students’ work catch the eye of LHA, but also members of the Mount Vernon community, including Head of School Dr. Brett Jacobsen. After visiting the museum himself, he shared this note: “Today, I had the opportunity to be informed by each of your teachers of the Unsung Heroes project you have been working on at Mount Vernon. I was impressed to learn about how you have applied math, art, history, literature, design, and much more in understanding, empathizing, and recognizing unsung heroes in our world. Thank you for dedicating yourself to reading more, learning more, and collaborating more with your classmates and teachers. My hope is that you take all the lessons learned from this project and apply them to your life and make an incredible impact on people you encounter throughout your educational and professional career. You have a great deal to be proud of and the School is very proud of you and your teachers.” 
For a start-to-finish recap of the project, read the below text contributed by Head of Grade 4 David Ayers. We began an Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) Unit around the question, “Who is at the table?” this past November. Being responsive to everything going on in our world, we wanted students to begin analyzing power structures, and we chose to do this through the lens of the American Revolution. We started by analyzing maps from the time period through today, including those of indigenous peoples.  Additionally, students analyzed data from the 1790 census. We also utilized visual thinking routines to respond to “high art” of the time period, specifically looking for who was represented and how. From there, we began teaching the causes of the American Revolution and the students had a Patriots vs. Loyalists debate–which was amazing. We wanted an anchor text for the teaching of the Revolution, but we specifically wanted to highlight marginalized voices. We landed on the novel, Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson. The novel tells the story of Curzon, a former slave, who fights in the American Revolution.  While reading the novel, we began exploring which groups have traditionally been in seats of power and how that impacts overall society. Forge was the perfect vessel for this work, and the story of Curzon led to so many incredible questions.  While building out the IBL, we came across LHA’s website and her #Heroesnothate challenge. From there, our kids were HOOKED. Students researched the individuals highlighted on the author’s page, but they also wanted to add women to the list as well. From there, we began looking at different ways people are memorialized in our communities. Students went on a memorial hunt with their families. Students then selected a monument that they felt would be fitting for their particular individual.  A man who lost his family as a child was honored with a youth home in his name, a farmer had an agricultural college in his honor, etc. From the very beginning of the project, students were hopeful that they could share their work with LHA. We promised as teachers that we would do everything we could to make sure she was aware of the work they were doing and the impact her novel had. We shared out the students’ work via Twitter, and several days later LHA sent me a direct message, completely overwhelmed by the incredibly thoughtful work the students had done. She wrote, “I am so excited and honored by the #HeroesNotHate memorials you’ve been sharing!! After a very difficult year, your projects have made my heart sing again and have given me hope for our nation!”  A dialogue ensued, and Laurie agreed that she would like to meet our students, answer their questions, and offer appreciation and encouragement.  It was a real dream come true, and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I keep thinking that if there is a Heaven, which I believe there is, I hope all of the heroes you lifted up are in Heaven and that they can, in some way, look down and see the children of The Mount Vernon School lifting up their memory and honoring their accomplishments.” – Laurie Halse Anderson