District 91 teachers and students celebrated Black History Month this February on a daily basis, with events ranging from music performances to art projects to book discussions. The accomplishments and history of Black people were not taught as a separate unit; rather, those accomplishments and art and achievements were woven into daily discussions and activities and in every single class.
There were, of course, special performances. Betsy Ross Principal Tinisa Huff said a virtual performance called the Evolution of African-American Music, including music from Africa and Hip Hop from Urban Gateways, was presented to students.
But Huff, well known in the district for her daily morning messages, brought Black history to students too, every day highlighting an influential African American.
Students in Kindergarten and first grade at Betsy Ross all received a workbook called Let’s Learn About African-American Inventors, and second graders got Let’s Learn about Black History.
At Garfield School, Principal Jamie Stauder said they kicked off the month with the book The ABCs of Black History Month by Rio Cortez.
“It is a wonderful book with awesome illustrations,” Stauder said. “Each class read and discussed the different vocabulary together.”
For the rest of the month, said Stauder, students discussed two individuals each week, including Simone Biles, Barack Obama, Stevie Wonder and Lorraine Hansberry.
Tiffany Brunson, principal of Field Stevenson Elementary School and Forest Park Middle School put emphasis on teachers and staff, not just students, participating in Black History Month.
Teachers put together a slide show about African Americans who inspire them. The slide show includes famous individuals like Michael Jordan and Ruby Bridges, but also people who have had an immediate and personal impact on teachers’ lives. Music teacher Meghan Binder, for example, highlighted her Kung Fu teacher Sifu Arthur Berry, with whom she studied the martial art for eight years.
Faculty and staff all read the book 400 Souls, and Brunson is holding monthly sessions to discuss the book until the end of the school year.
Each student at Field was given the book The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up The World. On a schoolwide basis, a slideshow of African-American youths who have made a name for themselves is presented during morning announcements, and a trivia contest is held for students on Dojo. Three winners from each grade will receive gift cards.
In Library, students are reading books on different Black Americans, including lesser-known figures, such as Mary Walker, who was enslaved and, after becoming free, learned to read at the age of 114.
At Grant White, fifth-graders recently learned about mathematician Katherine Johnson, an expert in orbital mathematics, whose calculations aided the success of NASA’s space flights.
During morning meetings and science throughout the entire month, said Principal Roger Beauford, school leaders “will discuss the impactful stories of Black scientists and the importance of their victories. During morning meeting, students will be introduced to powerful quotes to lead and live by.”
Fourth-grade students have listened to various Black poets, discussing the power of words. Their reading included works of poet Amanda Gorman, who read one of her poems during President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
At the middle school, sixth-graders were visited remotely by Dr. Shannon, who was baptized by Martin Luther King Jr. and shadowed him through the Civil Rights Movement. Middle-schools students will also see a virtual performance of The Wilma Rudolph Story.
In science, sixth-graders did research on African-American scientists, inventors or astronauts.
In middle school music classes, students are learning about a different Black musician each week, studying Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Trombone Shorty and DJ Cool Herc and listening to their music. Students are also studying Civil Rights songs, including “Free at Last,” in which the lyrics were inspired by King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In ELA, students focus on Black poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks, and in all Health classes, students learn about physician Daniel Hale Williams, one of the first physicians to perform open heart surgery; he also opened the first interracial hospital on the South Side of Chicago.