Black History Lessons Go Interactive in Area Schools

By Parrish, Tory N | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Black History Lessons Go Interactive in Area Schools


Parrish, Tory N, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Shaler Area Elementary School fifth-grader Merritt Montgomery stood beside classmate Izabella Daley as Izabella spoke into the school's intercom, reading information that they'd compiled about a famous black American.

The girls, age 10, offered clues, enticing students to try win a prize by being the first to figure out the person's identity.

"I won five medals -- three gold -- and was given six awards. I also set two world records! Although my life was cut short by a brain seizure, my title is still known," Izabella told students on Tuesday.

Shaler Area, Penn Hills, Pine-Richland, North Hills, North Allegheny and West Mifflin Area school districts are among districts across the country celebrating Black History Month with assemblies, morning announcements, reading projects, plays, hallway displays, social studies lessons and other activities.

Topics include the Underground Railroad -- a secret network of people and places that helped slaves escape from the South -- segregation, and social and political milestones.

Interactive tools are effective teaching methods: journaling, blogging, drawing and writing, said Edda Fields-Black, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who teaches West African and pre- colonial African history.

"Very few people ... want to sit and just listen to a lecture," she said.

At Shaler Area Elementary, fifth-grader Jacki Jones, 10, won Tuesday's quiz by giving the correct answer of the late Olympic track and field champion Florence Griffith Joyner. Prizes include pencils, markers, stampers, bookmarks and pencil sharpeners and snacks.

Applying knowledge

The morning quizzes use student research from classes that Michelle McGuire and Ann Mirosavich teach.

"What surprises me is they are so into this. I didn't realize we'd get this response," said McGuire, who said students schoolwide are discussing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and some Shaler homes' involvement in the Underground Railroad, among other topics.

Black History Month's origin is linked to black historian Carter G. Woodson's 1926 declaration of the second week in February as Negro History Week. Woodson, who died in 1950, picked that week to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.

The commemoration expanded into a month in 1976.

Some academic and black cultural experts say teachers should impart black history throughout the school year.

"I think that if it becomes more of a way of life, something that becomes part of our daily experiences, then we think about February as the beginning, the new year," Fields-Black said. …

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