Before joining the upper school faculty this school year, Alex Tronolone worked for The Brooklyn Historical Society—now known as The Center for Brooklyn History (CBH) at The Brooklyn Public Library, where he served as project director for the Muslims in Brooklyn curriculum and website launch. Alex has continued working with Dr. Habiba Noor in leading a series of workshops designed to help teachers incorporate the “Muslims in Brooklyn” curriculum into their existing curricula. Last week the final workshop, “Perspectives on Policing,” was held, and it was well attended by teachers from both public and independent schools, including several members of the MMFS faculty.
The program began with listening sessions of oral histories. Alex says, “Knowing about an event because you read about it and knowing about an event because you listened to someone share their stories are two different things. Knowing that NYPD spied on Muslims vs. hearing someone’s experience with that issue is very different.” In one oral history the narrator shared that she was severely bullied as a child, post-911, for being Muslim, which led her to become a bully herself. Another speaker shared stories of growing up in the 1980s, when he experienced more racism for being Black than for being Muslim.
After the listening sessions and group discussions came the introduction of activities that teachers can use with their students: creating a blackout or collage poem from the transcript of one of the oral histories; writing a letter to the narrator; or creating a “welcome packet” for new immigrants.
Alex has already incorporated some of this curriculum, particularly coming-of-age stories, into his 9th grade English classes. And after last week’s workshop, some of his colleagues are excited to begin exploring these lessons as well.
Upper School Head English Teacher Cara Shaw said, “I am teaching a folklore unit and will share how this type of storytelling is a way to appreciate cultural experiences from the past and an avenue to share a different perspective of a contemporary event.”
For Upper School Head Music Teacher Peter Tinaglia “Something that jumped out at me was the possible connection between these oral histories and verbatim ethnodrama. This form of theatre takes primary oral sources and curates them into a structured narrative while preserving the original voices. Hearing the first-person voice is really special and I’d like to think that students respond to history more as a living thing when they hear an authentic human voice relating their experiences.”
Alex is proud of this work, and emphasizes, “The curriculum doesn’t teach you about Islam; it teaches you about the Muslim experience.”
There are lessons for all grade levels, and teachers can customize the lessons as needed. Alex encourages teachers who are curious about the program to check out the Teacher Toolbox.
Alex Tronolone is a life-long New Yorker and proud graduate of its public schools. He received his Bachelor’s degree from NYU in history and as a NYC Teaching Fellow earned his Master’s from Long Island University in Teaching Urban Adolescents with Disabilities. His focus is on designing programs that help educators understand how the humanities can be used to examine our civic past in order to better map our civic future. Alex currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Museums, Arts, and Culture Access Consortium, an organization striving toward increasing access to NYC’s cultural institutions for the disability community through connection, education, and advocacy. Previously, he served on the board of the NYC Museum Educators Roundtable, a forum for museum education professionals to address meaningful issues relevant to our work and to exchange and disseminate current information.