For the first time, the Sun Prairie school district is planning a district wide collaborative effort to celebrate black history month this upcoming February. For years, individual schools did their own celebrations every now and then, but there was not a mandate to do so.
With Sun Prairie growing in diversity some began to question why they were not having black history month celebrations, most recently at the Sun Prairie Youth Summit earlier this month. More than 35 percent of students attending Sun Prairie schools are students of color, according to Department of Public Instruction data.
“What we wanted to do was collaboratively develop something for an entire district,” says Sun Prairie school board member Marilyn Ruffin. “Each school managed to do their own thing. Some people didn’t think that was enough and I agree.”
Ruffin is the first African-American woman to serve on the Sun Prairie school board, which, at times, has proven difficult in a growing but traditionally all-white town.
“It was history making in Sun Prairie when I became the first person of color elected to the school board,” Ruffins says. “And as I’m running for re-election there are still a lot of things that need to get done. With a lot of people of color in the district we need to make them feel represented. This district is 12-13 percent African-American kids. We need to recognize more what contributions our children of color are making here.”
The school district is going to work in conjunction with the black student union to come up with a program that the kids will enjoy putting on as well. No decision has been made yet about what specific things will be put on by Sun Prairie. The black student union is meeting faculty members and will be fully ready to unveil their ideas after the holidays.
Just because Sun Prairie is growing in diversity doesn’t mean the race related challenges felt by communities around Dane County are not present. Ruffin said that when she first joined the school board most of the disciplinary issues she saw play out disproportionately involved black students.
“I would say unfortunately when it comes to expulsion hearings it’s disproportionately children of color,” Ruffins says. “Not to say that they shouldn’t have been expelled because some of the things that were done were bad. But with me on the board, the fact they can see someone who looks like themselves when they’re at a hearing, that’s a comforting thing. When it’s all-white that is not a good experience. So my first term was an eye opening experience. The district hadn’t put an emphasis on students of color learning. But these last three years they have.”
So Sun Prairie moving to a district wide celebration of black history month is yet another step in the right direction. Times are changing and Sun Prairie, with some prompting from members of the black community, is changing with them.