Classes in WTSD recognize Black History Month

Washington Township School District marking February with presentations, role play

The Washington Township School District is celebrating Black History Month by focusing on diversity this February.

For example, Christopher Spina’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes come into his room to see photo of a famous African American displayed with a brief biography attached.

“When I design these lessons for Black History Month, I choose Americans in history who have a significance when it comes to music, sports, politics and just about every background so every student, boy or girl, can relate to one, two or even more of them,” he said. “With that, having them do a problem-based learning activity so they can have a problem and try to solve the problem with the information they have.”

While the immediate impact is learning about prominent figures in African American history, the students take notes about the figures, whether it’s Booker T. Washington, Jackie Robinson, Oprah Winfrey or Marvin Gaye, and break off into groups of two or three to do a presentation. The presentation, what Spina describes as a public service announcement, is given to the class, school and even the community.

“I’ve been doing this for about six years,” Spina said. “I have students come back in eighth grade or in high school and say ‘we talked about this person,’ ‘we listened to that song,’ it does stick with them. They remember who it is and why it’s historically important.”

Bunker Hill Middle School history teacher Kathy Jeffries does something similar to Spina. She posts a historical figure or event on the board as an ice breaker to start class.

Where Spina’s project is a public service announcement, Jeffries took a different approach. A partnership was formed with the other social studies teacher, Kevin Appleby, to re-enact two historic moments in African American history.

Jeffries’ class will recreate the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They will have students playing Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., they will borrow costumes and props from the drama department. Appleby’s class will perform a roleplay of Frederick Douglass’ life. The two classes will perform for each other.

It doesn’t stop there, Jeffries talked about the year-round curriculum.

“Eighth-grade curriculum is conducive to talking about how African Americans were affected in different times,” she said.

Jeffries isn’t just teaching the Civil Rights Movement, she’s teaching the Revolutionary War and the repercussions African Americans faced fighting on both sides.

“Seventh grade is world culture and religion, we’re starting life in West Africa and talking about Ghana,” Jeffries said.

Her class is doing a video conference with a Ghana classroom on Feb. 27. It will be a meet-and-greet of sorts where children will learn the similarities and differences between the cultures.

“This is the type of experience they’ll remember,” she said.

Things aren’t any different at the high school level. AP U.S. history and AP psychology teacher Krista Scardino-Welch integrates Black History Month lessons into both her classes.

In her history class, she keeps a constant discussion about civil rights and the struggle for civil rights from post-Civil War through the 1950s and ‘60s.

“We do themed units where we look at what’s going on in history and the struggle for civil rights through the time periods,” she said.

In her psychology class, Scardino-Welch has her students look at the psychological effects of racism, discrimination and prejudice.

“It’s something that’s always in their minds,” she said. “It’s something they realize isn’t a one-time thing, there’s many different things in society that occurs that relate back to racism, discrimination and prejudice.”

The goal for Scardino-Welch is to keep the kids open-minded. For example, she had her class read “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss. The students noticed the discrimination Seuss wrote about.

“It makes it more relatable to them. When it’s relatable, it opens up minds,” she said. “When you can make it relatable, it makes them more understanding, which makes them have an impact on trying to deal with some of the issues we have in society.”