Across the nation, there has been a push for schools to consider teaching material that shows the diversity of the United States and highlight people from diverse backgrounds when developing curriculums. With Black History Month coming up in February, representatives from Paducah Independent and McCracken County school districts said they are continuing their initiatives to provide diverse, culturally relevant material in the classroom.
Gathering sources and teaching materials that represent people from diverse backgrounds has been at the forefront of developing curriculum this year for both McCracken County Public and Paducah. With Black History Month coming up, instructors have also developed lesson plans and activities outside of school for students to engage in learning.
Michael Ceglinski, assistant superintendent of MCSD, said the district has intentionally sought to bring in diverse curriculum materials to engage with students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. While the schools have used materials that have highlighted diverse experiences before, such as learning about Black scientists or reading books about characters from lower socioeconomic classes, the district has focused more this year about being intentional in selecting diverse material.
“There’s all kinds of people who fall into those categories who we can learn from. I think that’s what we’re trying to do is search the world over, to bring those perspectives into our schools because we have kids like that, families like that, who they’ll connect with,” Ceglinski said.
This focus on intentionally seeking out diverse material has been an initiative within the district since Stacy Thomas was promoted to be the district’s Community Outreach & Diversity Coordinator eight months ago. Staff have undergone more diversity training, Ceglinski said, and have had more discussions about how to include more diversity in the curriculum and how to be intentional about including diversity.
Under state law, there are certain curriculum standards that need to be met at each grade level for certain content areas including math, English, science and social studies. For example, under state social studies standards, by the time a student finishes second grade, they should be able to “construct responses to compelling and supporting questions, using reasoning, examples and details, about the diversity of communities in North America.”
Will Black, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction with Paducah Independent School District, said schools build off the state standards, which he noted are developed by Kentucky teachers, to develop a curriculum for their schools. After students take state exams, school staff can then evaluate test data to see how well students understood certain state standards, and can make changes to the curriculum, if necessary, to better meet those standards.
Black said it is also PISD’s goal to include material that appeals to students from all backgrounds.
“Our goal is, in teaching the current state standards, that we deliver them in a culturally relevant way,” Black said.
Typically, students focus on United States history in fifth and eighth grades and during their junior year of high school. Black said the social studies curriculum the district uses, History Alive, weaves in Black history, women’s history and history of other underrepresented Americans throughout the textbooks.
At points during the school year, especially during Black History Month, Black said schools include other material that features Black history. As an example, he said a third grade class may have a Black history social studies unit during the month of February, even though U.S. History is not the focus of the third grade curriculum.
Shonda Hollowell-Burrus, chief equity officer with PISD, is also one of the co-advisers of the Paducah Tilghman African-American Leadership Club, which has been active for three years. She said the student members lead discussions about what is going on with current events and the relevancy of historical events, and students set the agenda on what they want to discuss and learn about.
McCracken County High School also started an African American Leadership Club that is open to any student to learn about what it means to be a young Black student within the school district, Thomas said. The club has heard from African-American leaders and Black business owners in the community about their experiences. Thomas said not only do African-American students get to envision themselves in these roles when considering future careers, but students of all races get to see that community leaders do not have to meet one standard look.
“One of the things we realized is that even though it’s an African American Leadership Club, we also realized the importance of all of our students understanding what it means to have African American leaders within our buildings,” Thomas said.
At MCSD, Thomas and other district staff members have been working with a group of middle school students to explain to them what equity means, what it means to be inclusive and how those students can be advocates for equity and inclusion once they get to the high school.
Paducah Middle School students have also been given the opportunity outside of the classroom to engage with Black History Month and the history behind the fight for Civil Rights. Geco Ross, PMS principal, said students at all grade levels have been given the opportunity to research and portray a person who fought for or supported the fight for Civil Rights. These figures can be people of any race, Ross said.
The concept of the project is that students “can’t be what you can’t see,” and by researching these figures, students can learn more about how they may engage in the community in the future.
Students from across PISD will also have the opportunity to further engage with and celebrate Black History Month at the end of February. AALC’s Black History Presentation will take place on Feb. 25 at Paducah Tilghman High School. Students of all races from preschool through high school, including students from AALC, will participate in a “celebration of the arts,” Hollowell-Burrus said. She added that students from MCSD are also going to participate in the showcase.
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