Whether producing a powerful video series on the Westfield African American History Walking Tour, exploring the many contributions of ancient African societies, or reading and researching non-fiction texts about prominent people and events in African American history, students and educators in the Westfield Public Schools are celebrating Black History Month and paying homage to Black Americans throughout history.
At Westfield High School, the students and staff of Blue Devil Television, a part of the school’s TV journalism program, teamed up with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield to produce a video series that takes viewers along on the Westfield African American History Walking Tour. On the video tour, WHS 12th grader Kayla Louison interviews members of the MLK Association at locations of historical significance, including homes once inhabited by famous writers Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, Robeson Memorial Park dedicated to athlete, actor, and activist Paul Robeson, and the site where slave auctions once took place.
High school social studies lessons this month also include a look back at the Antebellum Period, research projects that highlight Black wealth, innovation, and culture, past and present, and an examination of the social conformity of the 1950s and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement.
“Black History Month is not the only time to teach Black history, rather a time to reflect, demonstrate, and showcase the Black history students learn all year. These lessons are reflective of this approach,”: says Supervisor of K-12 Social Studies Andrea Brennan. “Teachers are creating lessons that translate Black history content knowledge into activities and projects that honor the humanity and contributions of Black people inclusive of ancient African civilizations, the struggles of slavery, and the ongoing pusuit for equalilty.”
Brennan adds that “most notably, teaching the local Black history of Westfield helps students connect with the history of their town and uncover the rich diversity that makes up the fabric of their community.”
Utilizing the BDTV video series, Edison Intermediate School social studies teacher Mary Keller took her classes on a virtual walking tour of the African American experience in Westfield from the Colonial Period to today, encouraging students to take the time to explore the walking tour locations in person when they have the opportunity.
Seventh graders in Kimberly Bennett’s social social studies classes at Roosevelt Intermediate School created a virtual museum exhibit featuring Black Americans who broke the color barrier in their respective fields, including NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson, athletic superstar and entrepreneur Michael Jordan, and Sojourner Truth, a former slave whose work as a passionate advocate and activist for civil and women’s rights earned her an invitation to meet President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.
The 8th grade classes of Roosevelt social studies teachers Kira Brady and Elizabeth Lestrange began work on the annual “American Voices” research project for Black History Month and Women’s History Month in March, while 6th graders in Jim Lane’s social studies classes researched and shared presentations illustrating the history, culture, and many contributions of ancient African societies.
“These were amazing societies that were destroyed by the slave trade,” Lane told his 6th graders as they presented to their classmates on Feb. 10.
And, as in years past, Edison students will gather in the auditorium on Feb. 25 for an assembly organized by choral director Kenneth Horn and students that includes poetry, song, and other meaningful tributes to Black history.
Elementary classrooms are incorporating lessons throughout Black History Month, with the older grades reading biographies and historical fiction and some teachers of younger students using the lens of Black history as part of a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) lesson to think about belonging and inclusion.
“Belonging and inclusion are among the many themes we explore throughout the school year,” says Superintendent Dr. Raymond González, “These specific lessons and events highlighting Black history and the many contributions of Black Americans are just a few examples of how the district strives to live its mission every day to educate our students ‘to respect individual differences and diversity in an ever changing world.’”