Students Explore Bravery and Courage in Celebration of Black History Month

Posted on Friday, February 28th, 2020

All around Gaynor during the month of February, students learned about the power of change and standing up for what’s right in celebration of Black History Month.

In the library, Pink and Red Cluster students read Uptown by Bryan Collier. The book centers around an African American boy who shares his love for Harlem and his community. 

Librarian Dionne De Lancy said she chose the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book because it is written by an African American man, and it ties into the Red Cluster’s social studies curriculum, which includes a field trip to Harlem, and explores many of the places the book mentions.

“The kids connect to things they know and have seen before,” Ms. De Lancy said.

Orange, Yellow, and Silver Cluster students, along with one Green Cluster class, learned about Frederick Douglas with Ms. De Lancy. 

The students watched videos on Douglas’ life in order to learn more about him, and then they connected his quotes to their own lives. The lessons were tailored to suit each age group, which is an example of differentiated learning. 

Ms. De Lancy said, “We talk about why there’s even such a thing as Black History Month, and students understand why people who have been marginalized are being celebrated. They’re getting an understanding of how their struggles and achievements have helped build the fabric of this country.” 

In the Blue Cluster, students learned about the history of voting rights, starting with the March on Selma, through videos and readings. Additionally, almost every class advisory is reading Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.

Blue Cluster Head Teacher Chon Smith said her class advisory has a Black History moment every day where the students learn about the life and achievements of a lesser known historic African American figure.

“This gives the students an opportunity to talk about diversity in a different way, and it exposes them to different people and communities,” Ms. Smith said. 

She gives the students a brief background on each individual, followed by a video. The advisory also discusses bravery and courage, and how each person they learn about shows these qualities. 

“I think the most surprising thing is how interested they’ve been in the topics, and how dedicated they’ve been in the process of learning about these people. Their empathy really shows,” Ms. Smith said.

Orange, Yellow, Silver, Green, and Blue Cluster students also attended an assembly last Friday in honor of Black History Month. 

Arlan Ettinger, the founder and president of Guernsey’s auction house, visited Gaynor to talk about Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela, as well as about slavery, segregation, and freedom.

Mr. Ettinger presented a rarely seen letter from Parks his auction house had previously owned, highlighting an incident where Parks stood up to a white boy who was threatening her on a walk.

He then played a part of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech after discussing his life as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. 

Mr. Ettinger finished off the presentation by giving an overview of the life of Nelson Mandela and his fight for freedom in South Africa. They discussed Mandela’s raised fist becoming symbolic of his fight, and the creation of gold casts of his hands. These casts are now held at Guernsey’s.

Ettinger left the students with words of inspiration, saying, “There’s not one of you in this audience who isn’t capable of being like these three people. Know that you can achieve anything you want in life.”