Black History is a crucial part of American History. By Kindergarten, most students know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, and that he was a peaceful advocate for equality and justice in the United States. At Wellan, classes dive deeper into Black History education, studying the successes and struggles of many different influential African American figures and why it is so important to study them.
This month, Lower Elementary teacher Kayla Hindle taught her students about Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 1967, as well as Mae Jemison, who became the first female African-American astronaut to travel to space in 1992. Primary Teacher Sachié Karmacharya taught her students about Claudette Colvin, who at 15 years old refused to give up her seat to a white passenger nine months before Rosa Parks did the same, and Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, who read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration. Additional figures classes at Wellan studied this February include Barack and Michelle Obama, Katherine Johnson, Maya Angelou, and more.
Students learn that though the month of February was chosen to celebrate Black History because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas’ birthdays occurred in February, Black History is important all year long. Furthermore, they learn the significance of racism in the African American experience, and that this is not a thing of the past. Sachié Karmacharya describes the importance of honest communication regarding the topic of racism: “We do talk about race and racism, and I think it is important to talk about in school. We say the word racism and talk about what it means, how it was created by white people, and impacted by the concepts of inferiority and superiority. We talk about how it’s still very real today, and that it affects how people are grouped together. But we also tell our students how we hope that they leave our classroom at night and on the weekends and keep the knowledge with them that everyone has to think about standing up, and that it’s okay to know what is right and what is wrong in your heart — and sometimes kids know that more than we do.”
Indeed, Wellan students are caring, compassionate, and inclusive children who want to be positive members of diverse communities. Wellan is proud to partner with parents in helping guide their children to maintain these qualities as they grow, so that they can become caring, compassionate, inclusive adults. If you are looking for ways to engage in meaningful conversations with your child surrounding the topics of Black history and racial justice, consider the following tips and resources.
Wear clothing that features social justice messages.
Sachié talks about the power of clothing in facilitating conversations: “I wore social justice t-shirts for most of this month, with messages like “Black Lives Matter,” “Teachers Believe Black Lives Matter," ''Together We Rise,” Martin Luther King's quote "Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere," and so on. Many of my students read. I welcome conversations and questions around what they read. I want them to be curious and ask questions about what these statements mean, why they are important, and to think about how they make them feel.”
Try fun and interactive activities.
Learning through interactive, creative experiences can have a great impact. Sachié describes a few hands-on activities that illustrate the concepts of race and skin color in unique ways for children: “One activity we have done in the past is bring in a variety of different spices for the children to use to recreate their own skin shade. This accompanies our discussions about melanin, and how it's what gives our skin its color. By combining spices like cocoa, turmeric, cinnamon, and sea salt, students are able to see that their skin colors are so much more than black or white. Another example of something we did before COVID was an experiment with jars of sugar and salt. We would show the children three jars, one with white sugar, one with brown sugar, and one with salt, and ask them which two were the most similar. At first, of course they say the white sugar and the salt, because they look the same. But then, when they get the chance to taste each one, they realize that actually the white and brown sugar are more similar.”
Children’s books are a fun and engaging way to introduce concepts like race and racial diversity. Check out the following book recommendations from Wellan librarian, Kimberly Burke!
Books for Beginner and Primary Students:
- Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race (By Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, Isabel Roxas)
- Dream Big, Little One (By Vashti Harrison)
- Follow Your Dreams, Little One (By Vashti Harrison)
- Black is a Rainbow Color (By Angela Joy)
- Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins (By Michelle Meadows)
Books for Lower Elementary Students:
- Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You (By Sonja Cherry-Paul, Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi)
- ABCs of Black History (By Rio Cortez)
- This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration (By Jacqueline Woodson)
Books for Upper Elementary Students
- This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work (By Tiffany Jewell)
- A Child's Introduction to African American History: The Experience, People, and Events That Shaped Our Country (By Jabari Asim)
- Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present (By Jamia Wilson)
Books for Voyager Students
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (By Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi)
- Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party's Promise to the People (By Kekla Magoon)
- Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box (By Evette Dionne)
This month and always, Wellan strives to foster a community in which all members feel safe, understood, and respected. Conversations surrounding Black history, racism, and racial diversity are crucial to creating compassionate and inclusive communities. We appreciate parents’ partnership in encouraging students to, in Sachié’s words, keep the knowledge with them that everyone has to think about standing up, and know what’s right and wrong in their hearts.