Black History Month

Beyond checking a box – Going deeper with African American history

Feb. 9, 2021 – TiLena Robinson remembers sitting down with a group of Duval students recently to discuss their experience with how black history was taught in their classrooms.

It was enlightening, said Robinson, a social studies specialist with the district.

“We’ve done student surveys where the feedback was very positive regarding how diverse histories are embedded into instruction,” said Robinson. “But it was very clear from speaking up close and directly with our students that we can do better.”

It’s that kind of feedback that fuels Robinson and other members of the district’s African-American task force.

Created last year, the task force is comprised of school board members, district staff, educators, community members, university partners, and parents. The goal is to ensure African and African American history are ingrained in all K-12 curriculum.

“It is our goal not just to be an exemplary school district but to go beyond and become a model of what teaching African and African American history looks like in a school district,” said Erin Conklin, a social studies supervisor with the district, who serves with Robinson on the task force.

Robinson agrees, noting that while there are African American history courses offered at each high school, African American history — along with histories of often overlooked minority groups — has to be interwoven in the fabric of all curriculum.

“African and African American history are natural components of instruction,” said Robinson. “You can’t teach world history without talking about Africa and how African peoples have impacted society; And you can’t teach U.S. history without talking about how African Americans have contributed to the history of the United States.”

Robinson, Conklin, and their colleagues on the social studies team have spent the past couple of years reviewing all middle and high school social study course offerings to align the teaching of African and African American history.

They also worked to increase professional development opportunities for teachers across all subjects to learn how to infuse black history activities and lessons into their instruction.

One recent training was held at the Ritz Theatre. Teachers had the opportunity to talk with experts who showcased Jacksonville’s local African American history and discussed how it could be better incorporated into lessons.  

More professional development opportunities – particularly when it comes to learning about local history – will be possible with increased partnership with the local colleges and universities.  

Task force members say they were recently able to partner with Edward Waters College in December to host a diversity seminar for teachers.

“The partnership with universities and colleges are so important because they can help bring that local historical research to our classrooms,” said Conklin. “Helping students understand local history is essential because they can embrace it on a deeper level. It’s their community, and it’s their history.”

Conklin and Robinson said they are proud of the strides the district has made, noting that it was recognized by the state in 2017 as an “exemplary” school district for how black history was taught in all classrooms.

But, both say, there’s still so much work to be done. One of the next areas they are tackling is developing lessons, activities, and resources on African and African American history into K-5 curriculum.

“This is more than just checking a box,” said Robinson. “Our goal is to ensure that instruction is taking place and implemented with fidelity. We are passionate about what we are doing because this is meaningful work.”

About the African-American history “Exemplary School District” designation

Florida Statute 1003.42(2)(h) requires public school districts to teach African American history and history of African peoples in all K-12 content areas.

Districts who fulfill this requirement and meet six criteria are designated by the state as an “Exemplary School District.” The status is a three-year designation, and school districts must show evidence after each three-year period that they meet the criteria.

The six components are: school board approval of an African American history Initiative; structured professional development; African American studies curriculum, structured teaching of the African American History curriculum, university-school district collaboration, and parent/community partnerships.

The district earned an exemplary status in the 2017-18 school year, and is in the process of reapplying to maintain the designation.

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