PV Teachers Find Creative Ways to Honor Black History Month in the Classroom
1 March 2021
In February, teachers at Passaic Valley made it a priority to honor Black History Month by teaching achievements by African Americans, recognizing their central role in U.S. History and liberal arts, and paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity.
In his classes, History Teacher Mr. Michael O’Brien, assigned his students a research project focused on an influential Black figure in American History. “I feel it’s important to shine a light on the accomplishments of Black Americans to raise awareness of these accomplishments,” said Mr. O’Brien. “I always try to incorporate the numerous achievements of Black Americans in all of my lessons. Additionally, we spent several weeks studying the Civil Rights Movement and the influence it had on American culture. To put it simply, Black History is American history.”
In AP U.S. Government and Politics, Mr. Thomas Deeney focused on Civil Rights. “After spending time discussing laws, Supreme Court rulings and the social movement for racial and gender equality, students in my class participated in a debate about current controversies involving these issues,” said Mr. Deeney. “I hope students get an understanding of some of the current controversies relating to equality, to be able to put themselves in someone else's shoes and to realize the complexity involved in trying to have a democratic system address these issues.”
With the debate, students in Mr. Deeney’s class were able to understand civil rights issues and how they relate to the world today. “Our debate was a very interesting learning experience,” said Braddan Rusu’21. “Mr. Deeney definitely allowed me, along with the class, to get a better grasp of the civil rights issues that have been going on in our country for years, and even to this day.”
In their classes, Ms. Michele Miskovich and Ms. Rosalinda Mulcahy collaborated to create a Black History Month unit for their English courses. Their classes studied materials like Amanda Gorman’s Presidential Inauguration poem and speech The Hill We Climb, Langston Hughes's I, Too, Claude McKay’s America, and watched a documentary on the Harlem Renaissance called Against The Odds: Artists of The Harlem Renaissance.
“We live in a diverse society. Therefore, it is important to include authors from different races, backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures in the English curriculum,” said Ms. Miskovich. “By participating in my Black History Month unit, I hope my students develop an appreciation for literature from a broad range of American authors and genres and continue to seek out Black American authors to help provide a framework for understanding the diversity that exists in America.”
In AP English Literature and Composition, Ms. Picarelli’s students are currently reading, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston and her AP English Language and Composition students studied Martin Luther King Jr. 's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. “I think it’s important that we amplify diverse voices throughout the year and not just one particular month which is something that is important to me in all of my classes,” said Ms. Picarelli. “Especially in light of what our country is going through currently and the important discussion surrounding race and racial injustice, it is important for us to listen to the stories told about these experiences. We need to hear different perspectives to understand where other people are coming from and to have a better understanding of what a movement towards racial equality truly looks like. I always teach my AP Language students to listen to the ‘entire conversation’ and without understanding people’s experiences and backgrounds, it's difficult to empathize and sympathize. Therefore, by hearing these different perspectives, I hope my students are more empathetic.”
Ms. Picarelli’s diverse approach to teaching about Black History Month through literature has had a great impact on her students. “With the guidance of Mrs. Picarelli, I have had the opportunity to participate in thorough class discussions about the Civil Rights Movement, and explore texts with my classmates that reflect today’s society,” said Julia Hosri ’22. “We studied famous texts like the ‘I have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and remembered his tremendous work towards the movement.”
In Sports and Entertainment Marketing, Mr. Dassinger makes it a point to include African American figures in his daily discussions, recognizing that their accomplishments are crucial in the sports and entertainment industries. He begins his classes with a “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” segment to recognize prominent figures in sports and entertainment and to discuss respective news items with his class. Mr. Dassinger feels that giving credit where credit is due is vital in the sports and entertainment industries and is especially important when recognizing African American figures for their impact. “Marketing is integral to the world of sports and entertainment and more so, our culture,” said Mr. Dassinger. “Months of recognition like Black History Month present a calendar opportunity to: educate, learn from history accurately, add to our cultural studies and give true credit where credit is due. Black History Month ensures every February that Black culture is not robbed of its contributions and legacy. The racial aspects of a ‘former revised and tainted history’ in some cases, centuries old is righted and exposed."