Black History Month Roundup

Black History Month Roundup
Posted on 02/24/2023
One Student's Dream

We're coming to the end of February, designated as Black History Month.  And while, it's true, a special effort has been made this month to celebrate the contributions of individual African Americans and learn their places in our history, this important topic is integrated into the curriculum all year.

Kindergarten has been reading biographies of famous Black Americans and making "biography rainbows" about each one.  From Sojourner Truth to Thurgood Marshall, kindergarten students are learning about justice and how important everyone's place in history is.  Similarly, in first and second grades more biographies have been read, concluding in writing assignments, about people like Ruby Bridges (who visited RVS in 2013), George Washington Carver and Misty Copeland, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Barak Obama.

In January, third graders read a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., and watch a video that detailed his achievements and concluded with the famous "I have a dream" speech.  They discussed concepts like racism, segregation and acceptance and wrote their own dreams for the world.  In February students researched historical Black figures such as Harriet Tubman and others, creating a mini biography of their selected people.

In fifth grade math and science classes, students are going to research famous African Americans who had major contributions to Math or Science.  They are connecting to what they've learned through small group discussions, whole class presentations and research projects in language arts.  Fifth social studies students focused on the American colonies and the impact life in the colonies had on different cultural groups, including Native Americans and enslaved Africans. 

The special education teachers combined their plans to have all of their students contribute to a large project.  They created a "quilt," using pictures and biographical texts that represent 30 influential African Americans.  These hexagons tessellate to create the larger quilt because as the bottom of the quilt reads, "We are all woven together."

In an organic way, throughout the year, 6th grade Language Arts covers the topics of diversity and inclusion through novels like Save Me a Seat (cultural diversity) and The Devil’s Arithmetic (racial/religious diversity).  In addition to class discussions of thematic ideas from this literature, students read related non-fiction and complete a variety of writing tasks including secondary and primary sources related to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. New this year, is a “Words at Work” lesson that aspires to build inclusion through the power of language.  Students are asked to pay attention to their everyday language (both inside and outside the classroom) and be conscious of how bias might intentionally affect what they say (and don’t say).  The practice of 1) keeping an open mind, 2) focusing on the person, 3) considering the context, and 4) responding, is followed up and discussed in FLEx classes throughout the year.

Sixth grade social studies students are focusing on civics.  While taking a closer look at the Constitution, they are specifically examining the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and also highlighting African American political leaders. 

In Spanish class, for MLK Day 6th graders listened to the "I have a dream" speech in English, with subtitles in Spanish. As a follow-up activity, we discussed some big ideas that were presented in the video and followed that with a search for cognates on the document presenting the famous speech in Spanish.  Students enjoyed sharing with their assigned partners their reading skills, discovering cognates in Spanish and recognizing words that they already know from past lessons. (Cognates are words that are the same or similar in both languages.). For Black History Month, 6th grade students described what the term "identity" means for them and read articles about Afro-Latinos in the Spanish-Speaking countries and in America. They saw a video recounting the experience of some Afro-Latinos who struggled with finding and describing their identity.

Music students are discovering how much of our American music is rooted in the rhythms and melodies of Black American history and experience.  Fourth and fifth grade band students learned about many musicians of past and present who contributed to that history.  Seventh grade students are diving into Jazz history and listening to and analyzing the evolution of music. Sixth through eighth grade students also learn about Spiritual music and how that music evolved from enslaved people to Gospel music in churches and other places. 

Eighth grade language arts students have read the screenplay of Brian's Song, the true story of Brian Piccolo and Gales Sayers, two rookies for the Chicago Bears. Set in the 1960s during the Civil Rights era, they were the first two players to room with each other by team position rather than race.  The eighth graders are also reading "one Friday Morning" by Langston Hughes and completing an author study to analyze how his era and experience affected his writing.

Our Service Squad is responsible for daily morning announcements and during February has given the student body an important fact about Black history at the start of each day like this one:  The Civil Rights act of 1964 was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Not only did it make segregation illegal, but it also prohibited the use of federal funding in discriminatory practices.  The Civil Right Act later inspired the Voting and Fair House Acts of 1968.  We've enjoyed hearing these highlights every day.

In addition to the focus on Black History month, RVS is proud of how diversity is incorporated into its curriculum all year.  From our Language Arts texts in the younger grades that feature stories about diversity and racism to the natural way social studies lends itself to examining different historical events through multiple cultural perspectives so students have a wider understanding of history and the empathy that grows with that understanding.  Middle school students will be learning about female scientists during women's history month and delving into the Holocaust Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli and Night by Elie Wiesel.   They'll learn about the extreme difficulties of growing up in South Sudan and who the lost boys of Sudan are while reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  Middle School SOAR students participated in the local model United Nations event in which they researched and wrote papers and drafted resolutions to ameliorate such issues as the Russo/Ukraine conflict and the continuing global pandemic.  The 3rd Grade Culture Show and 4th Grade Wax Museum events engage students in researching backgrounds and cultures that help them achieve new appreciation for the stories of many.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Boonton Township Education Foundation for another generous donation of books to both our library and classroom libraries.  These new books expand the opportunities for students to read about significant contributions and history of Black Americans.  I'm exceedingly proud of how our teachers incorporate historical, contextual and life lessons through the examination of both individual contributions of significant Black Americans and the eras in our history that prompted discovery and change.





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