Balsz Elementary School District hosts pilot for 1619 Project educational development program - AZEdNews
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Balsz Elementary School District hosts pilot for 1619 Project educational development program


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  • Tom Evans   |   Balsz Elementary School District

Balsz School District Students

The Balsz Elementary School District in east Phoenix will be home to a pilot program providing professional development for teachers on the consequences of Black enslavement and the contributions of Black Americans to United States history.

The 1619 Project Advocates of Arizona are working to implement educational programming in Arizona schools based on the New York Times’ series “The 1619 Project,” for which the creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won the Pulitzer Prize.

The 1619 Project is a collaboration of the New York Times and the Pulitzer Center in Crisis Reporting in Washington D.C.  Last year, The New York Times devoted an entire issue of its magazine to the 400th anniversary of the first African people to be kidnapped from their homes, enslaved and sold to white property owners in Jamestown, Virginia in August 1619. 

The 1619 Project provides the Black American perspective on the history of our nation, based on the reality that much of early America was built and developed through the enslavement of Black people.  Much of the country’s institutions — including education, healthcare, urban cities and suburbs and our overall economic development — and both our successes and failures as a society have a root in Black slavery.

The Pulitzer Center funds underreported stories and then develops lesson plans that teachers can access for free and bring these important stories into the classroom.  Although the Pulitzer Center did not fund The 1619 Project, it created a partnership with the Times and built the lesson plans that are being taught in classrooms throughout the U.S.

Valley residents Lisa Olson and Shelly Gordon are on a mission to bring The 1619 Project to every public school in Arizona. Olson and Gordon have partnered with the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at ASU.  They are working with Center Director and ASU Foundation Professor of English, Lois Brown, PhD, to implement a new professional development program designed to educate teachers so they can create lesson planning around The 1619 Project and bring this culturally relevant material into their classrooms.

“I read the 100-page issue and it changed my life,” Gordon said. “I decided I had to take action, not just reduce my experience to a ‘compelling read’ and stick the magazine on a coffee table. That was back in March of this year. Since then, Lisa and I have built an alliance with the Arizona Department of Education as well as a number of school district administrators in central and southern Arizona, governing boards, community colleges, Black education organizations, the ASU Center for the Study of Race & Democracy and the Pulitzer Center.”

Olson and Gordon had an opportunity to present The 1619 Project to Dr. Arleen Kennedy, Superintendent of the Balsz School District, who then asked the team to create a professional development program for teachers.

“Our district has a significant African American population, and when I realized the kind of impact this program could have on our approach to teaching about history and our culture, I knew it was a perfect fit for our district,” Kennedy said. “This is critical for our African American students to understand the history that they are a part of and for our students of other cultures to understand the impact that slavery has still to this day.”

Teachers will participate in six workshops as part of the program, with content curated from the Times’ reporting and the Pulitzer Center. They will then be able to use the program’s tools to implement information from The 1619 Project into their lesson planning. The workshops will feature guest speakers from the Pulitzer Center and the National Museum of African American History & Culture, among others to discuss the content of the project, and right now the group is working to have Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times reporter who spearheaded the project, as the featured speaker.

The 1619 Project Advocates of Arizona is also working with the ASU Center for the Study of Race & Democracy to launch a teaching institute in the summer of 2021, where teachers can deepen their understanding of The 1619 Project and how it can be implemented into schools.

“The 1619 Project provides illuminating and compelling points of entry to American history and to the still understudied accounts of African American experiences, innovation, genius and leadership,” said Dr. Brown.  “The CSRD welcomes the opportunity to partner fully with the 1619 Project Advocates of Arizona and together we anticipate that there will be much to analyze and discuss with the Balsz community as we launch this pilot professional development series.”

The 1619 Project Advocates of Arizona team is continuing to work with other Arizona school districts to implement the professional development programs in additional districts across the state.

The Balsz Elementary School District is located in a diverse and economically challenged part of east Phoenix north of Sky Harbor International Airport. For more information on the district, visit www.balsz.org.