With the help of “walking mice”, young researchers from John Hope Franklin delve into the history of civil rights


Local college students enrolled in Young John Hope Franklin Scholars program over the past 12 years have explored realities that often go unnoticed. This year is no different.

Most recently, 16 student fellows learned about activists and brought their imaginations to life by writing “Ms. The Magnificent Walking Mice of Montgomery.”

The program is named after the late Duke historian John Hope Franklin, who has dedicated his career to bringing African-American history to the forefront of US history. The Duke initiative – which has expanded to include both undergraduates and high school students as teaching assistants – gives young academics first-hand experience exploring history and follows Franklin’s inclusive style.

“What Jackie Robinson was to baseball, John Hope Franklin was to colleges and academics. His groundbreaking work drew “hidden” stories, and we wanted to do the same, ”said David Stein, the program director.

Ms. Magnificent Marching Mice of Montgomery follows five mice hidden in Ms. Montgomery’s sixth grade language arts class. These furry figures, inspired by real creatures in the classroom, learn as students in the book class research young activists.

After reading about Greta Thunberg, Kid Blink, Clara Lemlich, and more, the mice have the courage to stand up for their place in the classroom.

“The story of the mice is taken from a story I told the kids just for fun while we were having snacks. I had these mice in my room that Durham Public Schools wanted me to buy my own sticky traps for, and I was like “absolutely not; I can’t hurt them. So we made them Popsicle chairs and left offerings for them, ”said Kaitlin Montgomery, the teacher at Githens Middle School who inspired the title. “When I told them this story, they were like, ‘This should be how our book works. “”

Montgomery finds that the John Hope Franklin program provides a viable opportunity for students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

“It gives some of these kids a chance at something they might not get as easily as someone else, and it might put their foot in a door that would normally be closed on them,” Montgomery said. .

Eighth-grade student Ella Cohen, who first joined the program in sixth grade at Lakewood Montessori, recalls how she and her classmates spent their summer Zoom sessions exploring the augmented reality component of the book.

“For our two immersion weeks, we got deeper into augmented reality by watching videos, chatting and doing different activities, ”Cohen said. “There is a site that will bring the images in the book to life. “

Augmented reality feature in a section of the book about John Lewis, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up, and he preaches to chickens at the age of six.  Photo by David Stein
“We used a website to help us with the AI ​​and the QR code so the book could be interactive,” says Samahra Assefa, a student in the program at Durham School of the Arts.

Program administrators enlisted Ukrainian artist Maryna Aveetaf to translate students’ ideas into illustrations.

“She would make calls with the kids and show them what she was drawing, and they would give feedback, which is such a cool process for them,” Montgomery said. “I loved it, and I’m not even a kid in the program.”

Once the program moved to virtual sessions due to the pandemic, Montgomery found it difficult to teach in the new format.

“Getting the students to collaborate on Zoom was difficult. In previous years, we were together in a room. Being in physical space with another human, even though we are far apart, changes everything. Sending a message in the chat is not the same as whispering to the person next to you, ”Montgomery said. “But they did a fantastic job, and they were amazing sports.”

Even with Duke’s COVID-19 policies for in-person gatherings, the program has still performed just as effectively over the past year. Cohen says the students collaborated well, thanks to the program staff and their methods of engagement.

“I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot so that we can’t interact in person,” she said.

Augmented reality feature in a section of the book about John Lewis, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up, and he preaches to chickens at the age of six.  Photo by David Stein
Assefa agrees: “It was a really good experience, and even though we couldn’t go to campus, we made it work.”

Stein described some good things that resulted from having to meet virtually. The students were able to come together on a Zoom call with Tiana Day, who led a Black Lives Matter protest of more than 40,000 people across the Golden Gate Bridge last year.

“I found her and invited her, and then we featured her in the book. It meant a lot to the students, ”said Stein.

Next year, the initiative will focus on artificial intelligence and historical biases against women and people of color.

“I’ve been in the program for three years, and seeing how much we can do as a group is really empowering,” said Assefa.

“There is so much more than what you see or what’s in our textbooks when it comes to the past, and this program has really shown me the value of that,” Cohen said.

John Hope Franklin Young Scholars at Celebrity Dairy Goat Farm Retreat.

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