Story by Katie Hohman
Monterey Hills Elementary School (MHS) honored Black history in weekly video assemblies in February dedicated to specific themes, like Black women in science.
The series’ first assembly was on Friday, Feb. 5 and taught students about the accomplishments of Dr. Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician, and astronaut Mae Jemison. Each assembly pushed students to think deeper about what they learned, such as drawing connections between Johnson’s life and their own.
“I feel that Katherine Johnson’s life was more of a window for me [into new experiences],” a fifth grader said. “For one, I haven’t been an adult or African-American, so I can’t know any of her major life experiences, nor have I gotten a job like that. It’s really complex to think about someone else but I can [still] have empathy.”
MHS teachers worked to educate their students about Black history beyond the traditional figures that students learn about in society by focusing on Black people and contributions in diverse aspects of life.
“I wish to honor student’s humanity, and that means honoring Black humanity,” fifth grade teacher Kristy King said. “Because Black History is a part of American History it is important to highlight not only Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Fredrick Douglass, but also discuss Black scientists, mathematicians, and writers, such as Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison. Also, I feel it is important to teach lessons about the impact of racism and the painful truth behind it. My goal is to provide an anti-racist education to help build an anti-racist generation.”
During the second assembly, students learned about African culture and geography, while the third assembly focused on allyship, specifically for young people. The final Black History Month assembly covered how skin color and hair type affect identity.
The four-part assembly series is the continuation of an entire year of multicultural and inclusive assemblies that MHS has held during distance learning. The assembly topics correlate with specific months, like Hispanic heritage from September to October and Indigenous experiences in November, in order to promote diversity and anti-racism — which is not currently represented in the school curriculum.
“Teachers have a set curriculum for Social Studies that is multiple decades old,” MHS Principal Dr. Laurie Narro said. “Our English Language Arts program is more current, however the inclusion of diverse voices is limited. I think between the assemblies and our teachers wanting to seek out resources beyond our district adopted curriculum, we are doing our best to ensure visibility and inclusivity.”
Narro consulted with members of MHS’ Black community to ensure that the school sent out an inclusive and accurate message through February’s assemblies. The assemblies will continue in March, themed around Women’s History Month.