Area schools teach lessons of black history

By Barb Pert Templeton, Voice Reporter

This year mark's the 35th annual official recognition of Black History Month, an event first being established in 1976 by President Gerald R. Ford. Today, the occasion is celebrated across the country by churches, non-profits and industry but the most prominent observance is likely in schools, and our area is no exception.

Marie DeWitt, principal at Sugarbush Elementary School, said her staff has lots of projects geared to Black History Month. In prior years they even had a school wide assembly that featured special guests playing African instruments.

"I also read stories over the P.A. once a week about famous black Americans, an introduction of their lives and accomplishments, and then the students follow-up with it in each classroom," DeWitt said.

The music and art programs at the school are also embracing Black History Month as students in kindergarten through the fifth grade will learn the history of jazz and study famous African American artists.

Various social studies projects will also have younger grades mapping out the route for the Underground Railroad while the older grades look up and write biographical information about famous African Americans, DeWitt said.

"We have our first African American president so we're making a big deal about that too," DeWitt said. "And actually, we really work these things into our curriculum all year long not just during Black History Month.

"Technology is playing a big part in recognizing Black History Month in the classrooms at Will L. Lee Elementary School in Richmond. Principal Jim Benoit said he's been very impressed with the projects students in all grades have been working on in the computer lab.

"The students watched a short movie and then they are blogging about the Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' speech," Benoit said. "I just think that's so powerful, to be able to blog about that, it's just great.

"While the older grades are blogging, the younger set have watched short video clips about diversity and kindergarteners tackled a project called Bright Ideas. The construction paper plan has them learning about African American inventors and stringing together the chain of information they gather to share.

Social studies teachers are also working with students on projects that teach them about Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman and the upper grades watched the movie, "The Story of Ruby Bridges." Continued...