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Teaching Black history in central Ohio classrooms

Many teachers recognize that for some students, this may be their first exposure to Black history and culture.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — February looks a little different when it comes to classroom decorations for fourth-grade Olentangy teacher Shannon Griffin. Her classroom is decked out with pictures of well-known Black Americans, from Rosa Parks to Barack Obama to Beyoncé.

"The biggest responsibility is giving them that variety of people that [have a] variety of stories,” said Griffin.

Griffin is one of many central Ohio teachers working to make Black history education engaging for students.

In Columbus, Berwick Alternative Elementary School has turned "Motown" for the entire month of February, with different music, art and literature lessons all centering around that time period. Students have crafted different art projects from the time period to go on display this month.

"What we found is that when we play Motown music, they're like, 'Yeah, I've heard that song before!' So they actually really know more than they thought they do,” said third-grade teacher Wanda Mays.

Mays coordinates the theme every year and tries to select ones that can span across different grade levels and subject matters.

Many teachers recognize that for some students, this may be their first exposure to Black history and culture, other than the basic statewide curriculum points, like Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights movement and slavery being worked into Civil War lessons. 

This means leaving a lasting and positive impact is important.

"It should be natural when you're teaching. You should be naturally teaching things that are relevant to your scholars” said Mays.

“We discuss these changes in our culture all year long, but in February, we really do focus on a cluster of people,” said Olentangy teacher Alecia Simpson. 

Simpson says she makes an effort to use picture books when teaching Black history to allow younger students to make connections.

"You have those key people that we learn about in school, and so it's kind of my mission as a teacher to bring to the forefront other people that they may not learn about" added Griffin.

While each teacher has their own methods and projects, all hope their lessons last beyond the classroom


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