In honor of Black History Month, we are sharing the voices of Black members of our Nueva community. This week, we sat down with kindergarten associate teacher Rashida Blade, who is helping to spearhead new Black History Month programming in the lower school. This programming is designed to elevate past celebrations of Black History by incorporating division-wide hands-on activities.
Rachel Freeman: How did this lower school Black History Month program come to be?
Rashida Blade: For the last few years at Nueva, I’ve worked with middle school students to help them put together their Black History Month programming, which has included an assembly. While talking with Alison Williams (middle school SEL teacher and THRIVE coordinator), I mentioned that we should do some programming with the lower school students, as well. She reached out to Megan Terra, and this idea was born. I have been working with second grade teacher Samantha Stevens to create lower school programming about Black History Month. I realized when we were working on this that when I was in elementary school, I never had Black History Month programming, and I realized how important and impactful it can be, so that just made me more excited to want to plan this.
RF: What were the goals of the programming you planned?
RB: We started by working backwards, asking ourselves, “What do we want our students to take away from this?” Our answer was that we want students to learn about Black joy, celebration, and pride, and we want them to understand why this month is so significant. We wanted to take an approach that doesn’t focus on the negatives that come with Black history, because that’s the narrative students typically hear.
RF: What activities did you plan to help students learn about the Black joy, celebration, and culture that you articulated as your goal?
RB: First we thought about the format of the day. We wanted it to mirror our usual Fridays with a community meeting, movement activities, and choice time. So we took that framework and gave it a twist with Black history flair.
Our movement program is centered around African dance and having students learn about Black fraternities and sororities—which are really important in Black culture. For their choices, we incorporated different historical aspects of Black culture. For example, we have workshops about food and how food brings people together, and we have workshops in which students will explore Black art and will then create their own art pieces. (Click here to see the day’s programming.)
We wanted the program to offer different outlets of expression, so that all students feel like they're trying something new and learning something new at the same time.
RF: Can you give us a taste of the day’s activities?
RB: Everything is divided by grade level, so that students are doing activities aligned with their skill sets. In PreK and kindergarten, students will be creating an art piece based on Amanda Gorman’s poetry. They will also be doing an activity where they celebrate what makes them special, and they will be introduced to Thurgood Marshall—who he was and what his legacy is.
In second grade, students will be learning about Langston Hughes, and will write their own poetry. I’m really excited about what third grade will be doing, as they will be learning about Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I personally love his work so much. He’s so influential and the intersectionalities of his identity are so fascinating: he is Haitian and Puerto Rican, and he as a history of mental illness in his family. Social justice and equity are really connected to his work. Students will be incorporating words from some of his work in their own art pieces.
RF: Why do you think this shift in Black History Month programming will be impactful for students?
RB: This is important because a lot of the conversations that we have been having over the last year was about how we, as faculty, could impact our curricula to provide students with these little moments of feeling connected or opportunities for them to learn something different about cultures and backgrounds different from their own.
I wanted to open the door for lower school programming to highlight that there are ways to do this and teach students this history without it being scary. It's also so important to me, because some of our students here don't have a huge representation, and they share with me that no one here looks like them.
A parent of one of my students reached out to me to share that when she heard her child helped me read a Spanish language book to the class it made her cry. It really meant a lot to this parent for her child to have this experience.
These moments are important so kids even at a young age see themselves in what they are learning and have opportunities to participate, feel connected to our learning, and share that part of their culture with the class. Because I didn't get that growing up, and looking back I can see how that impacted me; it affected how I felt about who I was and it shaped how I felt about my identity, which wasn’t positive.
So, I really want to make sure that these students have that opportunity to feel more positive about who they are, and not have to look back years later like I did wondering who they are.
RF: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this special Black History Month programming that you'd like to add?
RB: This was truly a team effort. It was clear as soon as the idea was brought to Megan that she understood my vision and she brought in Samantha, and Megan really went into drive mode to make sure that this idea grew. I really appreciate that.
I also want to note that first grade teacher Jahi Johnson and associate teacher Liz Gustin contributed greatly by helping to create book guides for teachers to use throughout Black History Month. It may seem like a small thing, but they helped a lot and took a lot off my plate.
And I’m so grateful for Alison, who poured water on the seed I was talking about to help it grow. As we say in kindergarten, everyone’s efforts have filled up my bucket!