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For Grades 9-12 , week of Jan. 10, 2022

1. Murder, USA

In the last year big cities have faced enormous challenges. In addition to the coronavirus epidemic, U.S. city leaders have had to deal with loss of revenue from closed businesses, layoffs of city workers, decisions about keeping schools open or closed, and how to provide essential services like fire and police protection. On top of all that, cities have seen a surge in homicides that has driven murder rates to record levels. According to a special report by CNN News, more than two-thirds of the of cities that have the most people saw more homicides in 2021 than in 2020, and 10 of those cities recorded more homicides in 2021 than in any year ever. The record-breaking cities are located all over the nation: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Portland, Oregon; Memphis, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Tucson, Arizona. Crime experts attribute the spike in murders to the economic and social stresses of the coronavirus epidemic; fallout from social unrest caused by George Floyd's murder by police in Minnesota; and the surge in gun sales since the pandemic started. Rising homicide rates pose a significant safety concern for cities. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about cities facing this problem. Use what you read to write a political column detailing what approaches different cities are trying and which you think could be the most effective.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Sidney Poitier, Trailblazer

Sidney Poitier was sometimes called the Jackie Robinson of Hollywood. Like Robinson, who was the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era, Poitier was the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in the yearly Oscars competition. Like Robinson, Poitier opened the doors for thousands of African Americans who joined his profession, whether in Hollywood or on Broadway stages in New York City. Poitier, who died last week at the age of 94, chose roles that demonstrated the dignity, accomplishment and intelligence of Black people, rather than the cartoon-like stereotypes Hollywood had given African American actors in the past. In his first memoir, “This Life,” he wrote that few starring roles presented “positive images” of Blacks and that “however inadequate my step appeared, it was important that we make it.” He won his Oscar for “Lilies of the Field” in 1963 for his portrayal of a handyman who helps a group of nuns build a church in the American Southwest. Later he played a principled policeman confronting racism in the American South (“In the Heat of the Night”), a teacher who tames rowdy students (“To Sir, With Love”) and a Black doctor engaged to a White woman in a time of racial intolerance (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”). Throughout his career, Sidney Poitier chose roles that would inspire and encourage African Americans in positive ways. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a newsmaker today whose actions provide a positive role model for African Americans — and all Americans. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor telling how this person is a positive role model, and why that is important.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. Park Crowd Control

When the coronavirus epidemic peaked and prompted lockdowns across the United States, millions of people headed out for the nation’s national parks to escape confinement and enjoy the great outdoors. So many people embraced this escape strategy that national parks are now requiring reservations or timed tickets to control crowds. From Acadia National Park in Maine, to Glacier National Park in Montana, to Muir Woods in California, to Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, visitors will need to make reservations in advance — sometimes months in advance — to enjoy the most popular sites this year. For the most part, the rules apply to visitors who arrive by car and plan to exit before closing time. Vacationers who enter by bicycle, foot or public transportation, are exempt, the Washington Post newspaper reports. The national park system is one of the great treasures of life in the United States. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about some of America’s most popular national parks, as well as those whose beauty have not been discovered by as many people. Pick a park you would like to visit and create a travel brochure to highlight its attractions. Use the newspaper and Internet to choose photos for your brochure and write headlines and text to highlight different attractions. Use your art skills to create a design layout for your brochure. Share with the class and discuss.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

4. No More ‘Diet’

If you shop for sodas at markets or vending machines, you know how easy it is to find diet sodas. In the next few years, however, it’s going to become a lot harder. It’s not that low-calorie or sugar-free drinks are disappearing; it’s the name “diet” that’s going away. Soda companies are replacing the word “diet” with phrases like “zero sugar,” “no calories” or “sugar free.” The reason is simple marketing: Young people don’t like the word “diet” even if they ARE dieting or trying to watch their weight, CNN News reports. "No Gen Z wants to be on a diet these days," said a spokesman for PepsiCo Beverages North America, which changed the name of its Pepsi Max drink to Pepsi Zero Sugar several years ago. Other products going the “zero sugar” route are 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, and Coke. “Consumers are voting with our wallets, and sugar is something that people definitely want less of in our lives,” said one industry expert. Companies often change their image or “brand” in response to public opinion. In the newspaper or online, find and read stories about companies, sports teams or other organizations that are doing this. Pick one and write an analysis of what changes have been made or planned for the name or brand and whether you think it is a good move.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

5. Epidemic Wealth

The coronavirus epidemic has made the last year a tough one for working people all over the world. People lost jobs, businesses closed, employees had to work from home or split time between home and the office. One group of people did just fine during the epidemic, however. The 500 richest people in the world got even richer, according to the Bloomberg News Billionaires Index. According to Bloomberg, the combined net worths of the 500 people in its Billionaire Index grew by $1-trillion last year to an eye-popping $8.4-trillion. That's more than the gross domestic product of any single country in the world except the United States and China, CNN News reported. By contrast, the United Nations estimated 150 million people fell into poverty in 2021. The income gap between the world’s richest people and people who are not super-rich has caused great debate among politicians, businesses and social activists. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about proposals to address the income gap. Use what you read to write an editorial outlining ways to address the income gap — or not.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them; writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.