Cynthia Vaughn teaches first grade social studies at Rooftop Alternative K-8 -School in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco. The school was founded in the early 1980s by a small group of parents who wanted a public school option with an emphasis on the visual and performing arts. In its first year, the school rented the top floor of a San Francisco office building; the playground was on the walled rooftop. Parent involvement remains high at the school, whose ethnic population is evenly divided among Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and other minorities. Some students live in the surrounding residential neighborhood, while many others are bused to school from all over the San Francisco area, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ms. Vaughn began the year with a unit on conflict management and decision making. Students learned to identify different kinds of problems and the range of emotional responses they evoke, and discussed how best to solve problems among peers. This unit segued into the unit on community and provided a foundation for understanding the complex and sometimes competing issues that people in communities face.
The lesson "Leaders, Community, and Citizens" was part of the unit on community. At the beginning of the unit, Ms. Vaughn walked her class through different parts of the city, identifying the stores, businesses, residential and government buildings that make up their community. Then they created a fictional community in the classroom, called Rooftop Town. Students taped a map to the floor and placed on it boxes they had decorated to represent the government, residential, and commercial buildings that make up a town. Rooftop Town gave the class a hands-on model of a community, and Ms. Vaughn used this model to teach mapping skills, introduce students to the urban planning process, and provide them with examples of controversial community issues like the proposed location of a gas station.
Using a graphic organizer, the class also studied the different functions of government at each community level, as a means of understanding and personalizing the process of conflict resolution in a democratic society. The lesson helped students make connections among citizens, leaders, and their community in subsequent units during the year.
Lesson Background >>