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Black U.S. History at A3: More than a month

Students and staff at Academy of Arts and Academics – also known as A3 – are working to better understand topics of racism, slavery and oppression, among others. But their efforts aren’t just in recognition of Black History month. Instead, students are enrolled in a yearlong class that aims to understand all facets of Black U.S. history from slavery from the Antebellum Era through the Black Lives Matter movement of today.

“I think that it’s important that we learn about these topics in school,” said Madi Robinson, a freshman student. “Because I could easily choose to not to educate myself about these things, I could sit out of the conversation if I wanted to and not look at the things that are happening because of how much privilege I have. Obviously, we will never understand the things that Black people have gone through, but we need to at least do the bare minimum to educate ourselves and be conscious of what Black people have faced and are going through.”

“A lot of the stuff we learn about ties into modern day society,” said Lillian Stafford, a freshman student at A3. “Our first unit was about slavery and how that history came to be compared with the Antebellum Era and modern-day events. One of the biggest overarching lessons I think is that racism is still very prevalent in America.”

All freshman and sophomore students are enrolled in the class, which takes place twice a week for an hour and 40 minutes. The class was established just this year with the guidance of Principal Ame Beard and A3 teachers Cody Rosenberg and Melanie Vetor. The school typically focuses on the Civil Rights Movement each year, but this year decided to approach the topic with a wider lens.

“This year is not just focusing on the Civil Rights Movement, it is about American history and the positive social changes that it brought about for all of our citizens through that movement,” A3 Principal Ame Beard said. “We focus on teaching our students about non-violent strategies that have created opportunities for social justice.”

Juneteenth

One of the class’s main projects this year was a virtual museum which covered topics of resistance, survival, perseverance, strength and healing to answer one overarching question: “How has the yearning for freedom been expressed by Black Americans past and present?”

Freshman student Lilian Fredette said the class has been enlightening.

“It’s been really eye opening,” Fredette said. “There have been so many things that have happened in the last year that have made me realize that we live in a bubble. I was not aware of how much racism there still is in America.” 

Staff at A3 hope to make the lessons relevant and engaging so that students may better connect with what their learning. The school also focuses on some topics of study for the duration of the school year in an effort to build on each lesson and make them immersive.

 

survival and persistence

“A3 conducts deep dives into our subject matter and builds skills throughout the course of study, that’s why the curriculum spans the whole year,” Beard said. “Our units are immersive, have many components and cover science, language arts and social studies standards.” 

So far, students have found the subject matter to be meaningful and are eager to learn more.

“I think that it’s important that we learn about these topics in school,” said Madi Robinson, a freshman student. “Because I could easily choose to not to educate myself about these things, I could sit out of the conversation if I wanted to and not look at the things that are happening because of how much privilege I have. Obviously, we will never understand the things that Black people have gone through, but we need to at least do the bare minimum to educate ourselves and be conscious of what Black people have faced and are going through.”

Staff at A3 have said that because that the majority of students and faculty at the school are not BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Color), that it’s important to invite local Black community leaders to take part in the lessons and provide feedback. Eugene Police Commission Member Maisie Davis, NAACP Executive Director Eric Richardson, Lane County Equity and Access Coordinator Mo Young, Pacific University graduate student Alejandra Casillas and Churchill High School Educational Assistant Kevin Summerfield each served as panelists and visited the class to provide feedback following student presentations.

“It’s not just what we’re learning (that’s impactful) but the way we’re learning about it,” said student Lillian Stafford. “Our teachers recognize that they are white and that it’s important to hear from black members of the community who have actually experienced it.”

“It was relatively terrifying to present information on the N word to several members of our Black community,” said Fredette. “It feels silly because it’s almost like we don’t have the right to talk about this. But even though it was scary they were so helpful and provided us with feedback about what we should focus on and how we can improve, and now I’m more stable in my own knowledge on the topic.”

Principal Beard intends for Black U.S. History classes to continue at A3 and hopes that such classes will continue to benefit students in and out of the classroom.

“At A3, we work to build student skills to be successful navigating challenging situations,” Beard said. “We strongly believe in social justice and overtly help students to develop their voice in the greater community.”