Arizona schools are taking action to ensure Black history is being discussed beyond Black History Month, which is celebrated every year in February. Across the state, schools highlight the critical role Black lives play in the U.S. in and out of the classroom.
Dr. Dan Courson, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Paradise Valley Unified School District, said the district’s teachers discuss Black history during February through novels and texts to provide several points of view.
“They also explore how modern movements have shaped Black History Month and incorporate the use of resource sites that highlight their Black History Month lessons,” Dr. Courson said.
Other districts like the Balsz School District, which has a large population of minority students, create enrichment opportunities for students during February.
“One of my schools this month is doing a cooking challenge,” said Dr. Arleen Kennedy, superintendent of the Balsz School District. “Not only are they cooking food that is traditional to African American culture, but they are going to write about it.”
Dr. Kennedy said the goal is to not only help students understand the role storytelling and relationship-building play in the culture but for students to identify with the content.
Black History beyond the month
But Black history in its entirety cannot be tied down to one month. For teachers and students, a whole month isn’t enough time to dive into the role Black people have played in American history.
“Black History Month in February affords us the opportunity to take a deeper dive into Black culture,” said Dr. Cherryl Paul, superintendent of Sacaton Elementary School District, said. “It’s our responsibility to amplify the voices of African Americans past and present, not just for a month but rather for each and every day.”
At Sacaton, Black history is taught year-round from personal experience. Dr. Paul said a diverse staff is key to ensuring Black history is not limited to one month.
“When they can talk about their experiences then it amplifies the voice for our black students because then they find themselves in the stories,” Dr. Paul said.
Dr. Paul said the goal is that students and teachers alike can “honor the past and recognize the present to move forward,” but textbooks only touch the surface of this.
“What the textbook includes is very limited, so both teachers and students need to use multiple resources which allow for a broader perspective and a deeper dive,” Paul said.
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Why Black History Month is important for all students
Other districts across the Valley also recognize that textbooks don’t include enough perspective. In the fall of 2020, Balsz introduced a program that furthers professional development for teachers, with a focus on how to provide the Black American perspective on the history of the United States.
Though the district just started The 1619 Project, Dr. Kennedy said she notices how teachers are adding resources like texts, new sources, and films to recognize African Americans’ contributions.
Kennedy emphasized The 1619 Project is “not a replacement” but rather is meant to enrich what is already in the curriculum.
”If we’re in a civics class and we’re talking about civic duties, let’s look at elections, for example, we talk about the history of African Americans and their right to vote and the movement of being able to vote,” Dr. Kennedy said.
“Unfortunately, we’ll have to talk about the disenfranchised practices but we’ll still get to talk about how thanks to the voting rights act we now are able to vote. It’s about putting into context the value and history of voting,” Dr. Kennedy said.
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This conversation allows students to understand where they fit in this country’s history and how they can add to it.
It is educators job to ensure that students are equipped with the tools necessary to identify success so they can reach it, Dr. Paul said.
Dr. Kennedy also said, “Students need to see other people like them that have worked hard and become successful. So when we talk with our educators, we talk to them about allowing children to see the success in themselves.”
Meaningful discussions about Black history should not be limited to a month. Throughout the year, educators must re-examine the important role race, class and gender have on American history.
“It’s interwoven, we don’t teach separation. It’s not this is Black, this is Native, this is white. We can’t underscore enough that Black history, Native history is American history,” Dr. Paul said.
“It’s important that we examine our teaching practices through multiple lenses and we need to constantly self-reflect and determine the degree of our commitment to make the changes as we move forward to recognize that there are injustices and that we are giving a voice to all,” Dr. Paul said.