This February, Fund for Teachers is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting some of our Fellows’ journeys to bring a better understanding of the African American experience to all students. In this four-part blog series, we’ll be diving into everything from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to student advocacy. Our Fellows explored how black history is impacting student identity in our last blog. This week, we are taking a deeper look at how Fellows Pearl Jonas, Ashley Porter and Kaitlyn Kraushaar are considering the past in light of current events. Read on to learn more about their experiences in the classroom and how they are honoring Black History Month in their schools.
Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Our Fellows personify Jobs’ belief as they purposefully leverage history to change the future.
Establishing that African Americans HAVE a history is the beginning of Pearl Jonas’ teaching with students at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. She begins with the Transatlantic Slave Trade, then dives deeper into oral traditions as sources for understanding cultures and the past. Senegal and the surrounding countries provide the richest historical narratives, so that’s where Pearl conducted research on her Fund for Teachers fellowship. She now leads more engaging discussions that challenge how we think in the present based on how history was taught in the past.
“There are several myths, misconceptions and incomplete histories told about African societies,” said Pearl. “This has roots in some 19th and early 20th century European historians’ ideology that Africa has no history to tell.”
Conflict resolution inspired the fellowship of Ashley Porter and Kaitlyn Kraushaar. As teachers at Hixson Middle School, just twenty minutes from the 2014 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO, Ashley and Kaitlyn struggled to give their predominantly white students perspective through this tumultuous time. To find new ways to shape conversations on diversity across their district, the teachers designed a Fund for Teachers fellowship to research how teachers around the world address social justice.
“The current climate in our city remains very racially charged and divided, and healing is needed on both sides of the issue,” said Ashley. “Bringing to light race relations and the struggles of other minorities in a safe and responsive environment is key in helping all of our students make sense of who they are and who they’d like to be.”
Students at Hixson now regularly participate in restorative circles, such as this one led by Principal Grace Lee, to reevaluate how they handle tense or even hurtful situations. Kaitlyn and Ashley also applied FFT funds to purchase a Safety Pin Box, conversation prompts and tasks designed to help students become allies for the black community.
“The Safety Pin Box is a great resource that is helping our school as we strive to eliminate the equity that still oppresses our students of color,” said Principal Lee. “As a city, we are confronting racial inequities that support unjust systems. Hixson is at that table around those conversations and our kids are passionate about leading the work for change.”
America’s teachers no longer have the luxury of merely teaching one subject; instead, they are on the front lines of students’ academic and moral instruction, as well as their emotional and physical safety. Fund for Teachers is privileged to represent and advocate for our nation’s educators who look beyond current circumstances and resources to shape more informed and empathetic citizens.
We thank Pearl, Ashley and Kaitlyn for sharing their experiences and their students’ learning. Make sure to check our Black History Month feed on our blog here. Next week, our final post in this series will explore how FFT Fellows are addressing the achievement gap with students of color. Stay connected and find out when it’s live by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.