“One must know where they have been before they can know where they are going,” shares eighth-grade math teacher Sharra Jones. February is Black History Month and in celebration, we asked SchoolStatus educators to tell us about how they highlight Black History in their classrooms and schools. “Understanding the true meaning of Black History means to understand the struggle of not only African Americans but America as a whole,” Jones explains. “It is not just Black History, it is American History.”
Incorporating Black History into the existing curriculum can be a challenge depending on the classroom subject you teach. Jones teaches eighth-grade math at Laurel Middle in Laurel, Mississippi, “I have to be a little creative with incorporating a Black History lesson that ties in with the standard that I will be teaching. I also have to find interesting ways to make it relevant to student lives so that they are willing to learn it.” This month Jones is focused on geometry and transformation. To really make the lesson come alive, Jones is looking to the half-time shows of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Known for their style, showmanship, and amazing music, “the majority of these field routines involve numerous transformations written by important Black people that they probably have never heard of and that make a lot of money.” As an educator, Jones knows what elements will get a student’s attention, “My goal is to offer the students new Black History facts and show them that the things that we learn in math can be used in everyday life to earn you money and fame."
“It is important that we celebrate Black History Month in order to bring awareness to all people of the contributions that many African American men and women have made to our nation,” echoes seventh-grade English teacher Rachel Virgess. “It’s a time to honor and reflect upon the rich legacies that promote positive examples of exemplary leaders, intellectual giants, gifted entertainers, and dynamic social activists that took steps towards making prolific societal change for future generations.” Virgess’ classes will be doing just that with a variety of activities for her students.
“Black History Month lessons are incorporated into the curriculum in a number of ways,” Virgess explains. “We shine a weekly spotlight on famous African-American authors and poets. They will read the works of Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Walter Dean Meyers. Students will get the opportunity to learn about the life and times of these literary giants, and how their work has contributed to American literature.”
That’s just the beginning, however. Virgess is also incorporating a lesson around the history of African American storytelling and quilting. “Students will learn how tales indicate that quilts were used as secret, coded maps to help guide slaves along the Underground Railroad,” she shares. “The quilts later became a sign of comfort and beauty to many across the ages, and have had special meaning in the African-American community. We will read various excerpts from fictional and nonfictional works about quilting and complete writing assignments based on information learned from the excerpts and class research.”
The culmination of Virgess’ lesson will be a quilt the class will create together to be on display outside the ELA classroom for viewing. “This month affords an opportunity for our youth to learn about and reflect on the past,” says Virgess. “It allows them to know from 'whence they came' and that color should not be a barrier for achieving greatness. This month is not only meaningful for the African American community, but important for the greater understanding of national and world history.”
Seventh-grade social studies Teacher Jill Johnson agrees, “It is important for all people to be well informed and to focus, learn, honor, celebrate, and broaden our understanding of Black History.” Johnson demonstrates that Black History Month ideas can include your entire campus. “Two ways we will be incorporating Black History into our curriculum is by giving historical facts during weekly school-wide announcements,” she explains. “And by hosting weekly Black History Month celebrations after school.”
Seventh-grade math teacher Dr. Janie Brown is having her students research African Americans who played essential roles from a mathematical perspective. “The students will complete a project that allows them to creatively display the what, who, when, and the effects of African American leaders' roles,” she shares. For others looking to incorporate Black History Month into their curriculum, or for doing your own research, Brown offers some helpful links:
- Black History Month Lessons & Resources
- 6 Teaching Tools for Black History Month
- Black History Month Resource Guide for Educators and Families
When thinking about building a plan for Black History Month, Sharra Jones also emphasizes the importance of working together. “Collaborate with others to gather ideas,” she encourages. “Start with what you want them to know and research how Black people have made an impact in that area because they have." Jones suggests resources such as:
- Black History Month Resources Guide for Educators
- EDSITEment Guide to Teaching Black History
- Your local library
- Local museums
All of these resources can be found online or within your surrounding area.
“All students need to know and understand that they have more in them than it may appear,” says Dr. Brown. “We all need to understand that with a dream, a vision, and a great example, we too can accomplish great things.”
Rachel Virgess encourages other educators to look for resources from more than one source when planning for the month. “I would recommend that educators research a variety of African Americans from different categories to incorporate into their curriculum,” she shares. “Also the New York Times offers free lesson plans, writing prompts, and activities based on articles that they published. It can be accessed by educators at NYTIMES.
“Our students, much like our teachers, have gone through life's disappointments, so at some point in life, we must remember that our ancestors and the great African American leaders were also strugglers,” Dr. Brown describes the importance of the month not just for her students but for every American. “They, too, went through life's disappointments, but they dreamed big. They had a vision, and they worked towards that vision. So, we must look for the possibility of tomorrow because of the hopes and dreams of yesterday.”
Sharra Jones, Laurel Middle School, Laurel School District, MS
Rachel Virgess, Laurel Middle School, Laurel School District, MS
Jill Johnson, Longfellow Middle School, Norman Public Schools, OK
Dr. Janie Brown, Laurel Middle School, Laurel School District, MS
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