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Mike Connors
Sixth graders recently developed both their musical and artistic skills during an impactful lesson that also carried historical significance.
Lower School Music Teacher Becky Peterson led the lesson, which explored Lift Every Voice and Sing, a 120-year-old song that has gained greater attention this year during nationwide efforts to fight racism and injustice.
Created originally as a poem by James Weldon Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing was performed for the first time in February 1900, by students in Florida in celebration of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who was U.S. President during the Civil War, from 1861 until his assassination in 1865.
A brief history lesson: In addition to being a successful poet and writer, Johnson was an educator, who served as a school principal. He later became the first African American man admitted to the bar in Florida and held diplomatic positions serving the United States in Venezuela and Nicaragua, among a host of other career accomplishments.
Johnson's brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People soon adopted it as its official song. Lift Every Voice and Sing has been used to uplift through the years, especially during civil rights movements. According to a recent Washington Post article, it was quoted during the benediction at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American President in U.S. history. This year, amid racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd, the NFL featured a live rendition of the song before opening its season.
Mrs. Peterson wanted her students to absorb and explore both the harmonic melody of the song and the significance of its words. To achieve this, she first had her students listen to several performances of the song, from a variety of different singers and groups. She then had them to draw pictures that captured their emotions. 
Some images the sixth graders drew: The Liberty Bell, the sun cascading down on water, a march to equal rights, and peace symbols, just to name a few.
Mrs. Peterson plans to lead a similar lesson with her fourth and fifth grade students later this school year. 
Here are the opening verses of Lift Every Voice and Sing:
Lift every voice and sing,
Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Please listen to the entire song and enjoy some of the sixth graders' artistry:





James B. Massey Jr. Leadership Center
Esther Diskin

Norfolk Academy recently won an award for architectural design featuring a “sustainability approach" for buildings created as part of the Defining Leadership: Campaign for 2028.

The recognition came from HRACRE, a professional member-services organization serving the commercial real estate community of Hampton Roads, and is part of the VACRE, the Virginia Association for Commercial Real Estate. The HRACRE Design Awards program is an annual recognition of design excellence, “identifying and encouraging excellence in development in the Hampton Roads real estate community."

The school received the Design Excellence Award for Best Well Building from a panel of four architects. In its comments about the school's achievement, the jury noted: “While reinforcing their traditionally high standards of better equipping students and faculty at Norfolk Academy, this project does so though with a sustainability approach rarely seen in educational projects." 

The jury of architects also observed, “The buildings and the spaces between them draw attention to their impact on the environment and facilitate the notion that learning is everywhere, and ongoing. Sustainability features… are used to teach and inform and provide opportunities to practice environmental responsibility - now that’s how you educate the future.”

Buildings created during the campaign, which raised more than $68 million for endowment, capital projects, and operating support, have continued to receive recognition for design and environmental innovation. This spring, the James B. Massey Jr. Leadership Center won two awards at the annual meeting of the state chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council: a leadership award for Innovative Design, New Construction, K-12 Schools and it shared in a three-way tie for the People's Choice Award with New Cabell Hall at University of Virginia and the Consolidated Science Research Facility at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

Other major additions to campus architecture as part of the Defining Leadership Campaign include the Wynne-Darden Stadium and the expansion of the Lower School. The architects for the projects were Rob Reis and Jane Rathbone of Norfolk-based Hanbury. Whiting Turner was the construction firm.

The HRACRE awards jury was comprised of the following: Donna Dunay, FAIA, Distinguished Professor, Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, IAWA Chair;  Mike Johnson II AIA, IIDA, LEED ID+C, Senior Associate Perkins+Will; David Bagnoli, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, McGraw Bagnoli Architects; and Andrew McBride FAUA, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, University Architect and Assoc VP Facilities, University of Richmond.

Please read more about the environmental awards Academy's campus earned this year.  



Mike Connors

When Gidget Schlossberg '28 learned that COVID-19 was causing problems for an young autistic boy, she put her mind to work on how she could help.

The 13-year-old boy likes to keep to a regular routine. His favorite activity is riding to the thrift store to pick out books and movies. But for the past several months, the worldwide pandemic has made that impossible.

To help, Gidget decorated a clear plastic container that she placed near her home. Every day for months, she has filled the box, allowing the boy to ride over and collect his new gifts.

The Virginian-Pilot recently highlighted Gidget's service project on its front page. The online version of the article includes a video that Gidget made that teaches about autism. 

Shark Tank
Mike Connors

Lower School students are strengthening their communication skills by making sales pitches modeled after a popular television program.

Their project is Genius Hour Shark Tank, which is a resource class for Lower School students this school year. To understand the concept, think Shark Tank, the popular series in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to industry experts.

The Lower School version has variations: Norfolk Academy's ideas aren't limited to the business world, and sharks are not choosing winners and losers. They're also not handing out large sums of money to jump-start these young entrepreneurs. 

Much is the same, though. First, students are choosing topics, with guidance from faculty. Next, the students are pitching their plans to sharks - curious faculty and staff who are making surprise visits to classrooms. After each presentation, the sharks ask questions and help students fine-tune their plans.

Students then take that feedback and go to work, again with the help of faculty.

As an example, Drake, a fourth grader, chose rugby as his topic. During his presentation, he said the sport intrigued him but acknowledged he doesn't know much about how it is played. Sharks asked him how he'd learn more, and how he'd present his findings. He said he'd do research online and through interviews with coaches. He'd then make a poster that would explain what he learned, which he'd present to his class.

Ideas run the gamut. One sixth grader is building her own jewelry company, with proceeds going to charitable causes. Another sixth grader is inventing a new sport. A fourth grader wants to see if there's a way to make cars float on water. A fifth grader is trying to launch a miniature rocket. 

Genius Hour is designed to allow students the opportunity to dig deeper into their passions and interests, said Lower School Director Michelle Alexander, who helped introduce the program at Academy this school year and is guiding the fifth grade entrepreneurs. The goal is for them to figure out ways to answer questions that arise once they've started exploring.

“Genius Hour is the place where passions come to life," Mrs. Alexander said.

This program strengthens a number of skills. It allows students to test hypotheses, make note of their processes, and celebrate their successes. It teaches brainstorming techniques, how to formulate questions, and how to refine presentation skills and techniques.

Feedback also gets them to think critically when a pitch isn't quite right.

“Learning comes from failure," Mrs. Alexander said.

Right now, students are making their pitches, absorbing the feedback, and starting work on final presentations, which will take place later in the year. 

Early indications are positive. Students say they're gaining valuable practice making speeches, and the feedback they're receiving is helping them refine their ideas. 

In one way or another, those skills will come in handy in the future.

“Doing the interviews is good training, if one day I wanted to go on Shark Tank," Drake said. 

Areen Syed photo
Esther Diskin

Areen Syed '24 said she got her first serious understanding of genocide during sixth grade at Norfolk Academy, when she studied World War II in social studies and read a book about the Holocaust for language arts. She also did a “Globetrotter" current events report about the brutal treatment of the Rohingya Muslims, a group whose persecution in the Buddhist-majority nation of Myanmar has drawn the attention of human rights groups and reporters around the world.

That report, in particular, seared in her mind the reality that genocides have happened after the Holocaust, during which an estimated 6 million Jews died through the Nazi-organized program of destruction. She wanted to do more to promote peace, so she started in her home community, joining the Middle School's CARE Club and doing work on the Season for Nonviolence.

Now, Areen's work will have a broader scope, as she was selected as one of just 20 young people from across the world for a fellowship from Together We Remember, a nonprofit founded by the grandson of four Holocaust survivors. It strives to raise awareness of violence against minority groups in the United States and around the globe, working in conjunction with several Holocaust museums and organizations, including the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Areen, who said CARE Club faculty advisor Mrs. Jennifer Rodgers encouraged her to apply, said she was excited by the first Zoom meeting of the youth fellows, who range in age from 14 (she's one of the youngest) to 25. “It was a really powerful thing," she said. “It was cool meeting talk to so many people who think like me. It's like a room full of best friends."

Since the TWR Fellowship is just beginning, she's not sure of the full scope of activity for the year, although they will be actively involved in Genocide Awareness Month in April, a growing and coordinated effort that includes vigils and social media campaigns to counter identity-based violence and, as the TWR organization says, “make meaningful progress toward a world of 'Never Again.'"

Areen said she's excited to get started, learn more, and share what she learns with others.

To learn more:

Together We Remember

Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater

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