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How Springfield High School is incorporating Black history into everyday lessons

How Springfield High School is incorporating Black history into everyday lessons

February is Black History Month, and in an effort to celebrate and honor Black history, art, movements, people and culture - Springfield High School teachers and administrators have implemented focused, daily lessons specifically targeting topics such as systemic racism and the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) experience within education and other systems. 

Springfield High Assistant Principal Calli Dean said in an email to staff that the culturally responsive lessons, which take place for the first 15 minutes of each school day, would begin in February and last through the end of the school year. 

“It is vital that we, as holders of the curriculum and models for our students, are prepared with accurate information and strategies to initiate and facilitate conversations about race, racism, and white privilege," Dean said. "It is also vital that Black history is accurately and purposefully taught as part of the core curriculum, rather than solely with lessons relegated to February.”

Culturally responsive teaching and learning

Some of the lessons shared with students throughout the rest of the year include videos of sit-ins and the March on Washington; videos and lessons on why we celebrate Black History Month, educational presentations about the African American and Black creation of American music and much more. 

screen shot of lessons

SHS Teachers Pauline Pham, Andrea Smith, Dezerick Reed, Michael Klindt and others at the school worked together to come up with a curriculum that was not only Black history-related, but meaningful, despite the confines of a 15-minute advisory period. Smith and Pham both said the 15 minute window is somewhat limiting, but that it’s a “good start.”

I believe we have a long road ahead of us in working toward becoming a culturally responsive school, but I'm very hopeful,” Pham said. “Our staff have started to have difficult discussions about systemic racism and implicit bias, and I hope that we continue to do this so that our students don't surpass us in being more "’woke.’ We're at a point in history where we can't ignore racial issues; we have to address them head on even if it's scary and makes us uncomfortable. It's been a challenging and eye-opening journey for me, and I'm glad to be a part of a community that is open to changing. We have a lot to repair and rebuild, but I think we can do it.”

Smith said she hopes that the process will help to highlight all parts of Black history in an effort to provide a full story. 

“For too long voices and stories of BIPOC communities have been left out, are footnotes in history and/or are stories of struggle and heartbreak,” Smith said. “ I don't want to diminish the struggle and heartbreak because it is an important part of the BIPOC experience, but there is so much more to the experience. I want to share the light of diversity and the strength that can come in a society that recognizes its past wrongs and works to fix the long ingrained systems that evolved from these injustices.”

Representation matters

Pham said one of the main motivating factors for providing culturally responsive lessons is so that every student may feel they are represented in their educational career. 

“The fact that this student might not have felt represented in any of the learning materials they encountered in SPS hit home for me, because as a Vietnamese American, I too experienced this in school. Sure, we learned about the Vietnam War, but only from the perspectives of White Americans. Not seeing yourself represented in curriculum can have a devastating impact on your motivation to learn, your connection to school, and your overall academic achievement. We cannot underestimate how damaging that could be to our students. I did not want that for this student. They and other BIPOC students deserve better.”

Black history beyond February

Assistant Principal Dean intends to permanenetly incorporate culturally responsive lessons into curriculum at SHS with a few differnt efforts. 

SHS is embedding Ethnic Studies standards into its social studies curriculum this year and will continue to add to it in the future. 

"The goal is for all of our history (not just White man's history) to be taught in our courses. While we still want to honor Black History Month, the focus will be on embedding content into every month (same for Women's, Indigenous people's, LGBT, and Latinx history to name a few)," Dean said. 

In addition, the SHS English department has worked to select culturally relevant texts and points of view as part of its curriculum. The school will also continue to offer courses such at Rites of Passage,​ taught by Michael Klindt, which address the cultural, career, academic and social needs of high school and middle school African American and multicultural students of African descent in Lane County. According to Dean, the course is crafted in an academic and cultural framework for the purpose of connecting these students with the history, literature, traditions and folklore of the experience of African people in western civilization. 

Ultimately Dean agrees that there is much work to be done in the coming years, but remains hopeful that SHS is on the right path.

"Our work in equity is never completed and we need to continue to listen to our students experiences, especially those of the BIPOC community, to further understand where we fall short and need to do better," she said. "We need to continue to provide quality professional development in the area of equity and ensure our staff are informed and prepared to address areas of inequity, privilege and racism and create safe learning environments for ALL our students."