I’m in my third year teaching African American Studies at Obama Elementary. I teach every scholar in our school throughout the year.
This month is more celebrational that the rest of the school year. We do some different things. Each of my scholars has to explain what Black History Month is. I ask them to pledge to do something outside of class too: “I will learn the Black national anthem. I will learn a new fact every day. I’ll talk about Black History Month each night at dinner. I’ll teach my little brother.”
My students are engaged at all grades, which makes me feel good. Taking myself out of it, the pride I’m seeing in the kids is what’s really important. I have kids coming up to me and saying “Happy Black History Month!” It’s important to me that the kids see the greatness in themselves through the people who came before them.
Earlier in the year we studied and performed different kinds of debates. In our final activity students had to debate the views of W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Both men believed in equality but had opposing views on how to achieve it.
I have a first grade student, a little girl I had the hardest time engaging. She wouldn’t give me a chance in the world. I don’t remember what did it, but when I finally reeled her in, I knew it. I called her mom, who cried. Ever since, that little girl has been asking questions, volunteering, even helping other kids. I see this with many of our scholars. They are inquiring more and more every day. They’re quick to let me know about things they learn.
I went to grade school at J. J. Hill when Dr. Delores Henderson was the principal. I was maybe one of five Black students in my grade. When I went to college at Stillman, a historically Black college in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it was the the first time I had ever been around so many people who looked like me, with professors who looked like me, and successful business people who looked like me. When I got to Stillman, all of a sudden I loved school.
Last week some of our fifth graders went on a field trip to the courthouse in downtown Saint Paul and had a chance to talk to some lawyers. Another teacher texted me to say that one of our scholars, Destiny, had told the attorneys she wants to be a lawyer -- because she likes to debate.
Black History Month, and African American Studies throughout the year, is a way our scholars make connections. I expose all children to Black history, which is American history. Sometimes it helps them stand taller.
African American Studies Teacher