Schools Celebrate Black History Month

Schools Celebrate Black History Month
Posted on 02/25/2021

Each year, our schools celebrate Black History Month in their classrooms during February with a variety of interesting and vibrant activities. In addition to lessons and projects across subjects and grades, students also had the opportunity to engage in unique virtual experiences including historical and cultural presentations and assemblies. This year, Black History Month also integrated the district’s first Black Lives Matter in School week of action. Below are just some of the highlights.

Bradford, Hillside and Northeast
Students at Bradford, Hillside and Northeast had the opportunity to take a virtual field trip to the Yogi Berra Museum for an exhibit on the history of baseball’s Negro Leagues. In honor of this milestone, Discover Greatness showcases 90 framed photographs and Negro Leagues artifacts illustrating the rich history of African American baseball from the late 1800s to the 1960s.

baseball museum

The program for students explores the complex history and struggles of Black players in our national pastime, bringing to the for historical concepts like Jim Crow and the Great migration, as well as larger, ongoing issues of systemic racism and social injustice. Through interactive activities, students remotely experience the real Story of the Negro Leagues' growth and dissolution, including Jackie Robinson's barrier breaking rise to fame.

Bullock took the opportunity to infuse Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action for the entire month. A culminating presentation at the end of February was a huge decades projects. Students learned about John Lewis’ "good trouble"; teachers discussed diversity and the value of differences amongst a community using readalouds; a focus on Black women included Amanda Gorman and her poems. All grade levels and/or homerooms selected a guiding principle to continually infuse into their work for the remainder of the year. 

black history month assignment  black history month assignment

Bullock fifth graders have been studying African American artists in art class. These creations (see below) by 5th graders in Kay Whang's class were inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Art teacher Deborah Comeau commented, "They really nailed an interpretation of Basquiat's style and emotion. As a teacher and artist, I could not be more proud!"

artwork  artwork  artwork

artwork  artwork

At Edgemont, Morning Meetings began with learning about a famous African American. Classes read books about famous African Americans past and president including Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Robinson, Simone Biles, Barack Obama, Mae Jemison, and more. Students in Regina O’Connor’s class read the book "Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain" to learn about story plot. Her class also shared mask they made to honor their ancestors and the African folktales and proverbs they were introduced to.

student holds book  student in African mask

The culminating class project was a class quilt and a group African dance/mask video.

African quilt

In music, To students learned music by artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, B.B. King, and Miles Davis. They also began work on a project to create a school-wide recording of the African American National Anthem, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, by James Weldon Johnson, and his brother John Rosamond. 

kindergarten schoolwork  kindergarten school work

Kindergarteners in Carissa Olivi's class read Langston Hughes' "That is My Dream" and "April Rain Song." Students closed their eyes and visualized and felt through Mr. Hughes words.
They created a page with a message for the world using beautiful words like Langston Hughes. 

The Nishuane community celebrated Black History Month through a variety of activities. The entire school community participated in a daily vocabulary and lessons about African American history and leaders. Kindergarten students read and wrote about influential African American leaders. As administrators visited classes, one student expressed that Harriet Tubman sacrificed her own life to help slaves be free just like the girl on the tv show from this morning, who sacrificed her life for her family to win! "It was great to hear our youngest students make connections to leaders," said Assistant Principal Jazmyn Allen. First and second graders researched an inspiring and influential Black figure. After researching, students made the person they researched out of a real bottle, can, or a virtual Seesaw “bottle” buddy. See presentations. "We are so proud of the work that the Nishuane community has done throughout Black History Month," added Allen. "We will continue to lift as we climb."

zoom screenshot  black history month project

Nishuane second grader Phoebe had the opportunity to interview Bisa Butler an American fiber artist known for her quilted portraits and designs celebrating black life.

student interviews author online

Butler was born in Orange, NJ and has attended Howard University and Montclair State University. She has exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Epcot Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and other venues This is particularly relevant as students were both learning about and presenting Black leaders in their homerooms and also students learned about Butler as a unit of study in all Art classes. 

Students in Sherry Ayres 4th grade class recited Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise." In addition to class lessons, projects and the virtual field trip, Northeast parents, caregivers, and staff, had the opportunity to engage in learning as well. The PTA and SATp jointly presented “How to Talk to Your Kids About Race and Differences,” a virtual workshop with Glenfield Middle School Vice-Principal Frances Aboushi. During the discussion, participants heard examples of some of the thoughts and questions children may have about race and learned how to navigate productive conversations at home to impart an understanding and practice of equity and anti-racism. 

Watchung began and ended Black History Month with a Virtual assembly. On February 1, Watchung students put on an assembly that honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The assembly consisted of music, poetry, essays and student artwork. On February, 26, Watchung had another student-led assembly to honor Black History Month focusing on “We are who we are because they were who they were.” Frankie Faison, actor and Watchung student Florence Faison’s grandfather was an “amazing” guest reader for the assembly. Both assemblies contained elements of multimedia presentations. The Watchung community also celebrated Black History Month in all of our individual classrooms through a variety of activities including artwork, music/songs, written essays and read alouds.

black history month artwork.  black history  month artwork

actor reads book on zoom  black lives matter poster

Buzz Aldrin
Students learned about influential African Americans and their achievements. Highlights included studying visual and performing artists of color, including NYC based portrait painter Jessica Spence and NJ-based painter, quilter, and storyteller Faith Ringgold. French students studied famous francophone people of African descent. Sixth graders read the biography of Langston Hughes and dissected his "Dreams" poem. Students then created an interactive style classroom all about prominent African American writers. Other studies included black inventors of the Industrial Revolution, the desegregation of public schools after the Brown v. Board of Ed Supreme Court Case and looked into the process that took place in the 1970s that desegregated Montclair’s Public Schools; trailblazing Black women and more. Students from Literature Alive completed a Community Tapestry of collective poems inspired by a Poetry Challenge offered by the National Public Radio during the week of President Biden’s inauguration. Students learned about prominent African American figures including former congresswoman, Shirley Anita Chisholm. They analyzed her famous speech “Equal Rights for Women” (1969) and engaged in discussions. They then composed a poem of their own. Spanish classes listened to the song, "La vida es un carnaval," made popular by Afro-Cuban Celia Cruz and learned about "La Reina de Salsa,” The Queen of Salsa, her humble beginnings in La Havana, her exile from Cuba, and how she for many decades sang Spanish songs, some with a mix of Yoruba, a language spoken in several West African countries, as she made her profound mark in the Latin music world. 

Glenfield Social Studies teacher Vincent Pelli and Montclair Community Leader Diane Anglin hosted its annual speaker series that was rechristened as the Karen Wingfield ‘Growing Up Montclair’ Speaker Forum in remembrance of event co-founder and long-time district educator Karen Wingfield.

interview with Montclair residents

Each year, lifelong Montclairions visit Pelli’s classes to talk about their experiences in the Montclair school system through a racial lens. The forum has served as a wonderful way to infuse local history into the curriculum.

During Black History Month 6th grade students participated in a variety of activities. These included: Reading news articles and discussing the Black Lives Matter Movement; Civil Rights discussions about Brown v. The Board of Education, Emmett Till; Civil Rights Protests like the March on Washington and the Greensboro Sit-Ins; learning about HBCUs and influential African Americans in STEAM fields; reading, analyzing and writing essays on poetry and speeches from influential African Americans. In Government & Geography class on Fridays, students in the 7th grade researched, then created slides of African American politicians who have influenced government and the lives of Americans which they presented to the class. The emphasis was on choosing individuals who may not be well known to them and expanding their understanding of the important role Black Americans have played in our nation's history. In Friday ELA class, students read about the life of Thomas H. Jones through his autobiography. He learned to read and write within slavery and later became a spiritual leader. He is an unknown writer who can be found in the Library of Congress. 

Montclair High School
The Black Student Union (Advisors Gary Wallace and Sophia Kenny) hosted a Black History Month Spirit Week Feb 22-26.

black history month flyer of activities

Also, the same club offered an opportunity for students from all elementary schools to join one game time and/or story session during the week of February, 14. Young people met some high school students and learned about important people, moments, and ideas in Black History through play. In addition to game time, there was a day dedicated to story time.

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