Honoring Black History

Dear Families,

I thought you’d enjoy a snapshot of some of the themes and activities throughout the lower school in honor of Black history– which we celebrate all year long.  Of course, these are examples of just some of the things that are happening throughout the classrooms, and each is presented with many underpinning concepts, vocabulary and sensitive attention to children’s social-emotional development. Though these studies extend throughout the year, it’s also important to highlight this important month.

During assembly, second graders opened by teaching us all about the many accomplishments of James Weldon Johnson, and led us in the Black National Anthem that he wrote. One of our MS advisory groups presented a slideshow spotlighting black excellence and people who broke color barriers, in so many fields. At another time, we devoted a K-2 sing to Dr. King and second grade presented a montage of Langston Hughes poems at our regular assembly just last week.

Black History is American History, and we want the children to develop this deep understanding as they move through the grades.

In K-1, our youngest students focused on some past and present changemakers in their own lives as well as those known internationally for their work. They spotlighted musicians who were also civil rights activists, such as Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson and Lil Harden Armstrong.

First graders learned about segregation, Jim Crow laws and changemakers working together during the civil rights movement through to the Black Lives Matter movement. As a part of this work, they discussed how people sometimes say unkind things to others related to their identity. They named these as microaggressions because they happen frequently and can often go unaddressed.  They read a book called Ouch! Moments:  When Words are Used in Hurtful Ways. First graders also went to the Oakland Museum to see the Black History Month concert by SoVoSo. The presentation began with children learning about the drum and the importance of drumming in African culture, and songs like Down By the Riverside, that held secret messages that helped enslaved people escape to freedom.

In second grade, students learned about the vast numbers of inventors and scientists — some who were credited with their work and others who were not. They took some time to study Kenneth J. Dunkley and his technological inventions, including three dimensional glasses and made their own. They learned about many historical figures, such as Wilma Rudolph, George Washington Carver, Dr. Patricia Bath, Dr. Charles R. Drew and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. They made up special scientific spice recipes to go alongside some sweet potato fries in celebration of George Washington Carver. A big highlight of the month is a presentation by Alvin Ailey Dance, both here at school and a field trip to Cal Performances. They are also read about the Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia, that legalized interracial marriage in Virginia, and saw real photos of the Loving family.

Third graders studied the positive programs and impacts of the Black Panther Movement and other Bay Area programs, individuals and whole organizations of change makers. They compared the Panthers Ten Point Platform to the Thirteen Principles for Black Lives. They are also designing repurposed album covers and “liner notes,” as well as creating a song together to demonstrate learning. They even plan to record it!

Fourth graders further took the opportunity to compare the Black Lives Matter principles to those of the Mosaic Project, as they are beginning to prepare for their week long outdoor experience later in May. Each day they spotlighted achievements of Black people in many walks of life. They worked with Mosaic bound students at Emerson School to do a “partner build” activity in the innovation workshop and had deep discussions to prepare for that work, and how they step up and step back and be welcoming hosts to our Emerson friends. Last week, they went with Lisa and their teachers to the DeYoung to see the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983 exhibit.

Fifth graders study both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as a part of their year-long studies, so the curriculum is ripe with opportunities to teach about struggles for justice. Currently, they’re beginning the novel Elijah of Buxton. Elijah was the first free baby born in the town of Buxton, Canada on the Elgin Settlement. Elijah’s parents, and all the other grown-ups in the town, had escaped slavery and come to Canada on the Underground Railroad. They are also studying art from the DeYoung exhibit and creating some of their own based on that work. And, they have begun their own “1619” timeline project.

Our specialist teachers are working with classroom teachers and as their own specialist cohort to deepen the impact of these various studies. In art, children studied the quilters of Gee’s Bend–what inspired them and about their lives–and created the collective quilt in the Palm entry. In PE, students are highlighting African American athletes who broke color barriers, and many who became political activists. In learning garden, students are highlighting Black eco-warriors working for environmental justice. In music and Spanish, students are studying West African instruments and influences in Latin American music.

Many of these projects are continuing or evolving into others. Thanks for reading!

Lower School Director