As Black History Month comes to a close, I want to take a moment to recognize the tremendous contributions of African Americans throughout our nation’s history and in our own community.
It is a wonderful time to highlight and celebrate the history of African Americans — but I also want to recognize the importance of teaching African-American history, as well as contemporary lessons and conversations about race and equity, to all students, not just in February but year round.
Here is what we’ve been up to this month.
Read Your Heart Out
While “Read Your Heart Out” was introduced in 2004 to further develop African American family involvement, we also see it as a critical component of Black History Month in that students learn about African American authors and literature with African American characters. I had a chance to read a book picked by my own son from his book shelf at home to the kindergartners at Falk Elementary School. My son was so excited to find out what the children would think about his selection — “Last Stop on Market Street” — and they loved it. It is the story of an African-American grandmother and her grandson’s commitment to giving back to the community. It was a beautiful thing to see how engaged every single student was in learning about this family. It was also inspiring to see how many African American community members and parents volunteered to read at Falk that day.
Students at Jefferson Middle School had the opportunity to see the movie Hidden Figures, which is the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three African American female mathematicians at NASA, who played a key role in the U.S. Space Program.
Student Assemblies and Classroom Activities
Schools, like Lowell Elementary, held student assemblies to kick off Black History Month. All classes at Lowell presented a poster to their peers on an influential African American inventors, aviators, mathematicians, astronauts, and actors– like Lonnie Johnson, Bessie Coleman, Catherine Johnson, Hattie McDaniel and others.
Students also engaged in a variety of classroom activities and lessons. In Ms. Pagel’s class at Midvale, for example, students put on a play about Rosa Parks as part of a larger unit on the Civil Rights Movement.
Parents and community also helped celebrate African American history and culture, as well as National African American Parent Involvement Day, through additional events like the luncheons at Mendota and Muir Elementary.
Finally, we are recognizing history in the making and the significance of the presidential term that just ended—the first African American president and First Family in our nation’s history. The students at Olson Elementary wrote President Obama a thank you letter this past fall and received this letter in response.
This is an important time for every one of us to witness, our students included. And I am thankful for this special month in which we honor Black history—because it is the history of all Americans.