Food, plays, music and more

Tri-state schools find various ways to celebrate Black History Month

Tri-state schools find various ways to celebrate Black History Month

February 17, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Some of the people who call Martinsburg (W.Va.) South Middle School are close, but not right, when they ask for the assistant principal. Her name is Rosa Clark, not Rosa Parks.

Clark is black, too. She annually shares a healthy helping of black culture by singlehandedly preparing a soul food feast for about 50 to 60 colleagues. This year's menu included: barbecued spare ribs, collard greens, Hoppin' John (a bean and rice dish), red rice, dirty rice, yams, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, corn pudding, cake and iced tea.

"It's a labor of love," she said.

This year, Clark also reached into her black history trunk, where 29 years' accumulation as a social studies teacher sits. She pulled out two Underground Railroad paper quilts that she made - one for her door, one for Principal Dave Rogers' door.


Clark said her students used to re-enact slave escapes from her "plantation," until she gave up teaching. "The slaves are all free," she joked.

Elsewhere in the Tri-State area, schools turn to books, plays, art and music to celebrate Black History Month, otherwise known as February.

Johnathan Taylor, a sixth-grade English arts teacher at Boonsboro Middle School, has introduced his class to Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, Jackie Robinson and other black luminaries through articles.

He planned to give his students two plays about black characters to perform: Drumline and Antwone Fisher.

Both are stories of conflict and teamwork, Taylor said.

Susan Fries, a visual communications teacher at Washington County Technical High School in Hagerstown, had her class of juniors fill a long glass display case with images of black success.

A musical staff springs from a handheld paintbrush. Miles Davis and Duke Ellington are named on the staff, which ends with a gold medal and Jesse Owens' name. Cutout figures in the foreground represent Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, Bob Marley and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Fries said she wasn't familiar with Dunbar, a poet, and she was glad that students didn't rely on the most obvious historical figures.

Excerpts from King's "I Have a Dream" speech are posted on the inside ends of the display case.

As a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement, King is a common thread through many black history lessons.

Taylor said that a speech King delivered to junior high students in 1967 emphasizes dignity and excellence, tying in nicely to the principles of Washington County's Character Counts program.

King also talked about judging people by their actions and how they treat others, said Jane Glenn, a second-grade teacher at Hooverville Elementary School in Waynesboro, Pa.

"Kids can naturally be not very nice to one another, no matter what the color," she said.

Third- and fourth-graders at Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown are doing what Clark's students in Berkeley County used to do: escaping.

On Wednesday and Friday, one group will portray slaves and the other group will portray bounty hunters, said Jane Snyder, a Quest Enrichment teacher at Bester. The slaves will roam the school's halls, among students not involved in the project, in their search for three "safe houses." They'll try to get outside and hurry toward a fence - freedom.

The bounty hunters will try to stop them. Other students will portray Underground Railroad conductors, station masters and people trying to shut down the stations.

"They have to be totally silent while in school because of the secrecy," Snyder said. "If they start making noise, they will be captured."

Students who are captured must wait in a holding area until the exercise is over.

A group of students at Smithsburg High School on Wednesday and Thursday will perform a play called "We've Come This Far by Faith," in which a grandmother recalls black people's struggles against prejudice just before the Civil Rights Movement.

Also, the school's front lobby is decorated with 28 posters of famous black people.

At South Hagerstown High School, students got a taste of a traditional black music style - the blues - while they ate lunch in the cafeteria this month.

Carolyn Walker, a health and life skills teacher, sang with data specialist Will Vogtman, who played harmonica, too. Social studies teacher Chris South played guitar.

Other Black History Month activities at South High were:

- A "wall of fame" set up by Leon Brumback. It showed Tyra Banks, B.B. King, Colin Powell and other recognizable faces.

- A student group playing another music form with black roots: jazz.

- A game of "Did you know..." about black history.

- A poster contest judged by the National Honor Society chapter.

- Short plays about Douglass and Parks, read by Kathy Thornhill's drama and communications.

Glenn, at Hooverville Elementary, incorporated stories about Tubman, Ruby Bridges and other black people into her "morning read-aloud" sessions.

She discussed Underground Railroad quilts and hidden messages they carried.

There are no black children in Glenn's class, which she said mirrors her white upbringing in Waynesboro.

"They're so amazed," she said of her young pupils. "They can't believe people were treated this way because of the color of their skin."

She talked about Parks refusing an order to give up her bus seat, and how black people once had to use separate public drinking fountains.

"They're so quiet," she said. "They can't get over it."

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