Monthly Diversity Initiatives in Cresskill Classrooms

Image+courtesy+of+IEEE+Spectrum

Image courtesy of IEEE Spectrum

Emily Brennan

Another day of virtual school rolls by –at this point, the school days seem mushed together as just one very long day that somehow has been a full orbit around the Sun. Time seems to be moving so slow but somehow it has been a year since things were normal. 12:07 rolls around the corner and twelve students log in to Mrs. Wieme’s Google Meet for US History II Honors, unaware of what we are doing in class and eager for lunch to start. With a smile on her face covered by a mask, Mrs. Wieme says “Good Morning, or shall I say good afternoon.” The class has now begun. 

“Today we learn about Black History Month,” says Mrs. Wieme with an excited tone in her voice. Students pull up the Google Docs on their computers in order to fill in the notes that were posted on Google Classroom earlier this morning. Today’s topic – Amanda Gorman. In class, we watched her amazing poem that she performed at President Biden’s presidential inauguration in January. The video ends and students now fill out the google doc due at the end of class. Time flies by and at that point class is over and lunch has begun. 

Over the years the educational system has failed to teach adolescents about African American history and about the many influential People of Color in the United States. With recent attention to the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer, and the month of February dedicated to Black History, more and more school systems have made an effort to teach young students about the untold inspiring story of so many People of Color. It is common for school curriculums to mention slavery and the horrors that Black people have experienced – and while it is still important for schools to be teaching about slavery and other such things, this is not the only part of Black history in America. In the history textbooks used in so many American school systems, Black history is taught through the eyes of white people. In the year 2021, students around American should be taught about the history of our nation and all the people that made impactful moments in the past.  

The Cresskill School District has made an effort to make their students learn more and more about black history month. According to Mr. Roth, the Director of Curriculum for the Cresskill district, he says, “No matter the time or place learning black history and learning influential Black figures is important but now more than ever with what is happening right now in the US in terms of racial justice that this effort amplifies that need to make sure that we are making it happen for our students.” This month the Cresskill administration sent an email to all staff members requesting that Black History be talked about in all subjects so that the students of Cresskill have more of a grasp and understanding of important people in our country and to learn why we celebrate Black History Month. 

For Mrs. Wieme, a history and elective teacher at Cresskill High, teaching about Black History Month is not new. It is something she has been doing for quite some time. However, this year Mrs. Wieme is making it apparent that this is talked about on a consistent basis during her afternoon sessions with each of her classes. “I have done several lessons focusing on individuals who provide examples of Black empowerment and Black history during the afternoon sessions. I try to pick people for the assignments that not many students have heard about to bring light to unknown black figures in American history.” Mrs. Wieme also says the feedback inside the classroom has been a mix throughout her classes, she says that she sees some students seem to really enjoy learning about it and some students are less engaged – but this could be due to learning virtually which can be very difficult. 

The response has been mixed from students at Cresskill. Natalie Kacherova, a junior at Cresskill says that “In almost all of my classes teachers have made an effort to teach more about BHM, this is definitely an uprise in the right direction. In past years it would have only been talked about once in my history classes or maybe in an English class. This is definitely an improvement that I support.”

In conclusion, Black History in school systems around America has failed to educate young people about black history. After last summer’s strong Black Lives Matter demonstrations it is clear that more and more schools have been changing their ways – the Cresskill School District is one of many taking the step in the right direction.