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Students focus on issues surrounding Black History Month

March 1, 2018

For Black History Month, the Family & Children’s Place out of school programs – at Meyzeek Middle in Louisville and Hazelwood Middle in New Albany, Ind., explored African-American history, the importance of Black History month, and Racism.

At Hazelwood, students began the month’s lessons learning about Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week, which later expanded and in 1976 decreed Black History Month by President Gerald R. Ford. Students also participated in Black History Month trivia throughout February.

Each week, staff led discussions on issues of inequality, racism, and justice. Students began to think more deeply during each discussion about the world we live in, how America and society came to be, and the issues that we are dealing with today that date back long before they were born.

To fully understand discrimination, staff led the class in an exercise created by Jane Elliot (a teacher from Iowa) called, “A Class Divided.” In the original exercise, Mrs. Elliot separated her third-grade class by blue eyes and brown eyes over the course of two days.

Mrs. Elliot conducted the exercise the day after the April 4, 1968, assassination in Memphis of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Students at the time were confused why someone would kill this “nice man.”

For the Hazelwood program, staff separated students by freckled and non-freckled. The first half of program, students with freckles were offered privileges such as a cup of refillable water vs. having to get up and go to the water fountain, an additional snack, and more games to play.

Students without freckles had to wear armbands (for identification), and asked to sit only with those without freckles as well. Halfway through the program, students reversed roles. Before the exercise even began, students protested the separation. Once the exercise began, students created posters and marched around the room protesting the segregation staff had created that day.

After the exercise was completed, staff led a discussion around what occurred that day and how it felt when one group had privileges the other group did not have. The following day, staff showed students the original film, “A Class Divided,” by PBS, and discussed the difference and similarities in how the third graders reacted and how they reacted.

During the last week of February, students had more discussions about King and learned more about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and movements underway today.

Students concluded Black History Month by watching the film, “Hidden Figures,” the film adaptation of the formerly unknown African-American women behind some of NASA’s most important accomplishments in engineering, computer programming and computing/calculating during America’s earliest manned space flights.

The lessons inspired one student to write a speech about equality, which she read to the group during reflections at the end of the day.

For March, Hazelwood students will focus on women’s history during national Women’s History Month.

At Meyzeek

At Meyzeek Middle on a recent Monday during Black History Month, students in the Family & Children’s Place Collaborative Learning After School Program (CLASP) watched “The Children’s March,” the story of how young people in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 braved fire hoses and police dogs to help bring segregation to its knees.

Students used the film to understand the power youth wielded for change during the Civil Rights Movement, how they came together for a single purpose – that there was strength in numbers – and the potential influence it had on then-President John F. Kennedy to begin the charge to end segregation of schools. They also studied students who at the time sang protest songs and spirituals in the streets as they marched.

On Tuesday, students analyzed lyrics to protest songs, including “A Change is Gonna Come,” form 1964 by Sam Cooke, and “One Day,” from 2009 by Matisyahu.

Students sang along to the songs and critically analyzed what they believed the artists were trying to say and express through their lyrics. They sought to relate their reflections to things that were going on during each song’s respective time.

Some students wrote and performed their own protest songs, raps, and poems about issues they see in the headlines and their own neighborhoods.

On Wednesday and Thursday, students and staff discussed social issues they felt strongly about. Students gathered based on similar interests and collaborated to write their own protest song surrounding the issue they chose.

Topics include education, violence in the community, the political climate, equal rights, and bullying/cyberbullying.

On Friday, students performed their song for the other students and staff.