Caption: A bookshelf at Seneca Central PS features Black History Month selections
February is Black History month, and in Christine Kelly’s Grade 2/3 classroom at Seneca Central Public School, its lessons are woven into every facet of her teaching. Even recess presents a learning moment.
“The history of slavery, and of the Civil Rights Movement, what it teaches us is that it’s important to speak up when something isn’t right, and that we have the power to bring about positive change,” says Kelly. “For students on a practical level, it’s an opportunity to self-reflect and ask the question, ‘are my words or actions excluding anybody?’”
Through a cross-curricular approach, students are learning about key figures in black history, Canada’s role in the Underground Railway, and the songs and storytelling that brought about action and change. A geography lesson involves mapping local points of significance to the Underground Railway network; recreating quilt patterns – used by slaves in the United States to covertly communicate secret locations and directions – becomes a tactical lesson in geometry; guided inquiry using multimedia brings speeches to life.
“Students were given the option of how they wanted to present what they’ve learned about a particular historical figure,” says Kelly. “Some chose to write about it, others acted out a skit, and others chose to create a PowerPoint presentation about what they researched.”
Several Grand Erie schools have enjoyed an engaging presentation by tenor Michael Toby this month, who brings the local history of the Underground Railway to life through speech, video, and song.
Caption: Michael Toby presents to students at Thompson Creek Elementary School
“It’s a celebration of Canada’s important role during this time in history, and it has a lot of applications today,” Toby explains. “Students see the connections between slavery and bullying, for example, and they’re better able to celebrate, not single out, differences.”
At Thompson Creek Elementary School, students felt the energy of Toby's presentation. "His message was compassionate," observed student Sarah Lovegrove. "It taught me that we should treat others the way we want to be treated."
Toby is quick to point out that black history ought not to be studied just one month of the year, but integrated into learning year-round.
“Black history is Canadian history,” he points out. “This is a nation that was – and is – welcoming to freedom seekers.”
Walking into Walter Gretzky Elementary School, the word ‘welcome’ greets visitors in more than 20 languages.
“Equity is celebrated throughout Grand Erie, and given the diversity of our school community, it’s especially emphasized here,” says Grade 8 Teacher Robert Joynt. “It’s not just one month that we assign to learning about diverse histories, we integrate that learning throughout the year in all kinds of different ways, such as by celebrating the holidays significant to our students.”
Caption: Students at Walter Gretzky Elementary School with Black History month art pieces [Photo: Brantford Expositor]
This month, his Grade 8 classroom chose to increase the visibility of figures important to black history, including both past and present-day icons, through an activity applicable to art and English curricula. Each student selected an individual and researched the impact they’ve had. They then created striking portraits of that individual, tracing their features and cutting out silhouettes.
“This project had wide appeal because it involved research, writing, and the tactical process of working with tools to create the final pieces,” said Joynt. “It gave each student a connection to their chosen historic figure, and it’s a different way to highlight their significance.”