Black History is American History
The month of February is widely acknowledged nationwide as Black History Month. It is marked by celebrations of the life experiences, struggles and triumphs of descendants of the African diaspora. Students explore and learn about the many contributions that Black people have made to Western culture, and most importantly, that Black history is also, in large part, American history!
At Cooke, our educators teach it that way, integrating Black history lessons, literature studies, and cultural activities so that students learn the historical events and context that connect our past to our present.
Cooke’s Black History Month Studies
As part of Cooke’s Black History Month studies, Beth Sullivan (Director of Curriculum, ELA & Social Studies K-12), shared Reading with Cooke, a virtual library that includes a collection of stories celebrating significant events throughout the year, and targeted to students of all ages.
This month’s book lists focused on the stories of joy, struggles and resilience in Black culture. Selected books were “own voice” texts, meaning the book was written, illustrated, and/or about a main character who is Black or African-American. Ms. Sullivan chose audio books that were read by the author, as author readings really make the book come alive!
Check out a sampling of some of the reading selections by grade level.
Lower School (Grades K-5):
Middle School (Grades 6-8):
High School (Grades 9-12):
Creative Black History Month activities were plentiful this month! For example, the middle school classrooms have been comparing and contrasting different text genres in class using various “own voices” texts from the virtual library and other resources. In ELA classes, the teacher began instruction with a #BlackWriterADay, and students learned about authors including Renée Watson, Jason Reynolds, John Lewis, Nnedi Okorafor, Kwame Alexander, and Tomi Adeyemi. In Social Studies, students began each class with biographical spotlights on historic and influential Black Americans, and they had a voice in helping decide who to learn about (as shown below):
Cooke staff have created an inclusive and representative curriculum, supported by virtual libraries, author collections and biographical spotlights that students can access all year.
Expanding Our Knowledge: Diversity, Equity and Race
At Cooke, we continue our partnership with the Center on Culture, Race and Equity (CCRE) at Bank Street College of Education. The goal of this partnership is to support Cooke’s efforts to embrace diversity and address issues of race and equity as it pertains to students, faculty and families.
In December 2020, we held an initial working group session with faculty and CCRE trainers. This two-year partnership includes 30 Cooke staff members across all areas of our organization. The working group has undertaken the task of examining our school culture, to identify areas where we need to address policies and practices which deny or limit equity for all racial groups within our school.
Additionally, in an effort to provide all staff the opportunity to engage in this work (as a school community), we participated in a webinar led by Ibram X Kendi (New York Times best selling author, professor at Boston University, activist, and historian of race and discriminatory policy). In the webinar, entitled “How to Be an Antiracist School,” Professor Kendi responded to questions by members of various independent schools. He presented historical and cultural contexts for the continued prevalence of racism among individuals and in our institutions, and provided illuminating, insightful, and practical calls to action that we can all apply to our personal and professional lives.
There is a lot to learn, and as we continue this very important work, we invite families seeking to discuss identity, race, and taking action against racism, to do so with their children at home. There are a number of books and activities to guide and support these conversations. Here are a few adult resources that you may find helpful when speaking with children about this topic:
- NPR Parenting: Difficult Conversations
- Podcast with Brene Brown & Ibram X. Kendi
- A Guide to Raising AntiRacist Kids
As we learn more, we will be sure to share our resources and updates.
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