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Poetry, Performance & Pride: Teaching Black History to Elementary Students

During Black History Month we have the opportunity to engage our young Rocketeers in important conversations around race, civil rights, social justice, and American history. Our Rocketeers live all over the country. They come from varied backgrounds, speak different languages, and have unique experiences. It is our job to instill in our Rocketeers the knowledge, confidence, and language necessary to talk about and appreciate difference. Black History Month is an opportunity to inspire students to dream big and become the leaders, change makers, and champions they encounter in the powerful figures and accomplishments of the Black community in this country.

How are our schools teaching Black History?

Below are some examples of unique ways that our schools from coast-to-coast are teaching elementary students about Black history. Whether it be through performance art, poetry slams, or project based-learning, our teachers are instilling the values of pride, appreciation, and knowledge into the hearts and minds of our Rocketeers. We believe that this important type of learning must happen at an early age. That is why we are committed to elementary education, because a solid foundation leads to a strong future. Check out the school spotlights below to see some examples straight from the classroom.

Rocketship Rise Academy: Washington DC

At Rocketship Rise Academy, teachers and staff came together to inspire and uplift students as they explored the stories and accomplishments of both past and current Black figures and leaders. Through daily classroom discussions and artistic and academic projects, students honored some of the amazing black men and women who have shaped our history. Founding second grade teacher John C. McCormick shares why this work is so important, as well as some photos and videos of Rocketeers demonstrating their knowledge.

“I am a native Washingtonian. Born and raised in the Northeast quadrant of DC. I am a proud product of DC Public Schools and Howard University. I embrace and uplift the culture of my city every chance I get. What I am most proud of, however, is the career path that I was called to.  I am an educator in Washington, DC.

Last spring I was presented with the opportunity to become a founding teacher at Rocketship Rise Academy located in the Woodland Terrace neighborhood here in DC. In August, we opened our doors to our Rocketeers for the first time. As I began to bond with each of my students, I was reaffirmed in just how urgent and important this work is. A lot of them hadn’t experienced education of the quality that Rocketship was offering. A significant number of students were missing foundational academic and social skills. I was taken aback at the fact that it seemed a lot of their previous teachers had seemingly given up on them. The harder it seemed this would be, the more it pushed me to be there for them every single day to give them what they deserve.

Every day, I get the opportunity to give to my students what my teachers and members of my community gave to me: a sense of pride and belonging in the history and culture of this city. When I became a teacher, I promised myself that I would never lose sight of the reason I chose this path: to inspire the minds of urban black and brown kids who look like me and share my background. I am reminded of that promise every day that I walk into this building and receive 20 hugs in five minutes from my Rocketeers with big smiles on their faces and a gleam of hope in their eyes.

February is Black History Month and as I teach my students about the struggles that African-Americans endured in the past to simply be able to sit in a classroom and receive an excellent education I think about their future. I think about the impact that I may have on their lives as a black educated male that comes in every day ready to push them further on their path to academic success. I think about the struggles they endure in their own lives and how simply coming into a space where they are loved, affirmed, and safe can mean the world to them. I am proud and overjoyed knowing that the future leaders of tomorrow are sitting in my classroom right here in our nation’s capital and we are doing the work each and every day to make their dreams a reality.” – John C. McCormick, Second grade teacher.

Student Artwork Galleries adorn the halls at Rocketship Rise Academy in honor of important Black leaders, movements, and accomplishments throughout history.


Rocketship Rise Final Student Performance

At the Unapologetically Black student performance, different classes performed tributes to Black figures and role models. The performance enabled students to both reflect on and present what they learned throughout the month to their entire community. The show was put together by Ms. Nah, the Rocketship Rise Office Manager, and dance teacher Ms. Graham. Check out some videos of our Rocketeers performing below.

The Divine 9: The Second Grade Bisons give a tribute to the nine black fraternities and sororities known as ‘The Divine 9’
Barack Obama Tribute: Second grader D’Sai Jefferson gives a tribute to Barack Obama: 44th president of the United States

Rocketship Brilliant Minds: San Jose

At Rocketship Brilliant Minds, students from K-5th grades learned about different champions of civil rights through targeted lessons and projects throughout the month. Each morning during launch, the school highlighted a ‘Champion of the Day,’ and discussed their impact on history. In every classroom, students got to choose their own champion figure, and created plays, poems, and presentations based on their champion. The upper grades even participated in competitions and poetry slams. These different activities and projects all culminated in a school exhibition night called ‘Champions Through History.’ Rocketeers were able to showcase and present their findings to their parents and each other.

The entire Rocketship Brilliant Minds community gathered for the Champions Through History Exhibition Night. Whether it was the mariachi band that opened the show, the kindergarten Rosa Parks play, or the fifth grade skits on the Freedom Riders, our Rocketeers taught their families about the importance of recognizing and honoring Black history. Check out some photos from the exhibition below.

Other Celebrations Across the Network

Rocketship Rise Academy and Rocketship Brilliant Minds weren’t the only schools celebrating Black History Month in creative ways. The Rocketship Mateo Sheedy girl’s book club discussed and read ‘The Watsons Go To Birmingham,’ Nashville Northeast Elementary students curated a gallery walk of famous black musicians and poets, and Rocketship Si Se Puede organized a school outing to watch ‘Hidden Figures.’ Take a look at some photographs below for a further glimpse!

How did you honor Black History Month? Share with us! ➟ @RocketshipEd

Published on March 7, 2017

Read more stories about: Education Reform, Student Experience.