Bemiss students get in-depth lessons on Black history

Posted by Communications staff on 2/24/2021

This month, students in Kristy Wilkinson’s 3rd grade class at Bemiss Elementary are taking a deep dive into the lives and events that helped shape Black history. Kristy said she felt compelled to offer her students more in-depth lessons on Black history this year following protests over racial inequity that happened this past spring and summer.

“I felt the responsibility to be a part of the new conversation,” she said. “I want my students to be critical thinkers and see the world differently.”

Throughout the month, Kristy’s students have tackled a different Black history topic every week, starting with discussing why we celebrate Black History Month in the first place.

 “They’re learning that Black History Month is a way for us to tell and learn about stories that aren’t always told,” Kristy said.

From there, the kids learned about prominent Black figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. But Kristy didn’t want her lessons to just be rote memorization of key facts and dates. She wanted to make sure her students also understood the cultural and historical impact of those events.

Example of a cause and effect chart about the arrest of Rosa Parks, written on notebook paper “This month, the students are also keeping a cause-and-effect chart in their notebooks (example pictured left),” Kristy said. “First we’ll talk about a cause, like Rosa parks refusing to give up her bus seat, and then as a class we’ll start listing off the effects that came from that action. Like her arrest, the Montgomery bus boycotts and so on.”

Perched on a classroom wall is a three-foot-long timeline (pictured below), packed with important events in Black history, from the ratification of the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery) to the presidency of Barack Obama. The students add events as they learn them.

“We’ll be talking about a new piece of history,” Kristy said, “and a student will go ‘add that to the timeline, Mrs. Wilkinson!’”

With almost 20 entries, the timeline allows students to look at history through a different lens.

“I don’t think a lot of my students had a lot of experience with timelines before they came to my class, but they’ve really enjoyed seeing events this way,” Kristy said.

“I loved learning all sorts of new things about Black history in the United States,” said one of Kristy’s students. “I want to keep learning about [race] because there are lots of things I didn’t know about before,” said another.

As Black History Month ends, Kristy says she’s been so impressed with how her students have handled the lessons, adding that they’ve been kind and thoughtful with their questions and responses.

Reflecting on the last month, Kristy said she’s reminded of one of her favorite quotes: “When you know better, you do better.”

“It’s that little reminder to give yourself and others grace as we learn from one another,” Kristy said, “and to treat each other with respect.”

A timeline of Black history written out on butcher paper