As we continue our work to expand the voices and perspectives in our curriculum, we asked our teachers how they are recognizing Black History Month in the classroom. Classes from grades 4 to 12 and from the arts to math have linked curriculum to the observance of the month. In addition, many faculty members commented that their work this month is part of a year- or semester-long approach.
“We recognize the need to represent the histories and voices of Black people throughout our curriculum all year,” said Head of School Elizabeth McGregor. “But especially while these stories remain underrepresented in school, and society, it is important that we honor this month to celebrate the accomplishments of Black people and expand our knowledge and understanding of Black history. Our students need to see themselves reflected and celebrated, and to be assured that their experience is a vital and essential aspect of our education, our community, and our humanity.”
Read on for examples of how Westridge teachers are observing Black History Month in their classrooms.
- In art class, all Lower School students are creating pieces inspired by famous Black artists, including concentric circle paintings in the style of abstract artist Alma Woodsey Thomas, quilt squares depicting something special to the students inspired by narrative quilter Faith Ringgold, and tempera paintings inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, which depicts the migration of African Americans from the South to the industrial North.
- In technology, the 4th graders have been reading Hidden Figures, and later this month they will use Scratch programming to code a chatbot conversation with their favorite character.
- In 5th and 6th grade science, students are highlighting Black scientists and sharing their achievements by having students present on the problem each scientist helped solve. Science Teacher Liz Kim said, “Black scientists have launched us into space, discovered new disease treatments, and developed world-changing technologies, yet the achievements and contributions of Black people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are too often forgotten or unrecognized as a result of systemic racism.”
- 6th grade math students are studying proportional relationships and are currently looking at statistics based on race of the overall population of the U.S., law makers, movie producers and directors, and our Westridge community to discuss where there is under and over representation, and what affect that has on our lives.
- In 4th grade language arts and social studies class, students are learning about Jackie Robinson and his contribution to civil rights through the reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord and Testing the Ice by Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon Robinson. They will continue reading about the contributions of Black women to early California history throughout the year.
- In 6th grade humanities class, students are reading works by poets such as Amanda Gorman and Maya Angelou as part of a larger discussion of American Black women writers who have made significant contributions and broken barriers to tell their stories.
- In Val Brownsmith’s 7th grade math classes this month, students are researching prominent Black mathematicians and will discuss their contributions and explore the math that they worked on throughout the month.
- Sally Miller’s Middle School coding and game design class will honor the contributions of Black pioneers in computer science and recognizing today's Black women in computer science who are breaking barriers and changing the face of modern technology. They also will examine algorithmic bias and how it increases inequality.
- In a purposeful effort to teach how the work of Black artists is integral to understanding the larger web of modern and contemporary art, Middle School Art Teacher Jenny Yurshansky designed her program to highlight Black artists as an integral foundation for the artists and movements students learn about all semester long.
- In Fundamentals of Costume Design, students are spending the entire semester studying August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, 10 plays that explore the African American experience in the 20th century, decade by decade. The students use clothing and costume design to explore the intersection of clothing, style, history, and race in each play.
- In 9th grade geometry, Leah Dahl’s students chose either to research the life and contributions of a prominent Black mathematician or to explore the statistics and data related to the Defund the Police movement using data from Mapping Police Violence.
In Journeys in Film, students are viewing Killer of Sheep (directed by Charles Burnett) and The Last Black Man in San Francisco (directed by Joe Talbot) and comparing these very different films exploring the Black experience from different time periods and geographical regions, one mainstream, one a master’s thesis, one black director, one white director.