Black History Month is a time to recognize and honor the many historical achievements and contributions of Black Americans. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education adopted a resolution to further encourage the celebration of Black History Month throughout the District.

SMMUSD schools have been actively partaking in event and activities since the beginning of February to commemorate Black History Month. From spirit weeks to booklists, District schools are finding creative ways to incorporate the importance of diversity, inclusion, equity and identity.

Starting off at Jacqueline Papale’s transition kindergarten class at Webster Elementary in Malibu, the young students have been celebrating a variety of Black artists, including Maya Freelon, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Alvin Ailey. Papale also opened the month up by discussing Black authors and characters in literature, which she has displayed through her classroom. The TK class also created “People Rainbows” representative of the different skin tones people have. Papale makes it an effort to teach the children about identity, diversity and equality year-round.

Franklin Elementary in Santa Monica decided to put together an extensive booklist about famous African Americans including George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Harriet Tubman. The booklist also includes A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory and A Kids Book About Belonging by Kevin Carroll.

With everything from soul food lunches to the screening of Black Panther to live music and soul line dancing, John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica had a week filled with festivities. They ended the week with students reciting famous Black and African American speeches, poems and excerpts from pieces of literature.

The US History and Economics students at Olympic High in Santa Monica explored issues of class from a social justice perspective. They studied “systemic practices and their influence on generational wealth.” Students analyzed, both redlining and eminent domain practices, and precisely how these affected communities of color in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Additionally, the students did a walking tour of local historic places including Phillips Chapel, Belmar Triangle and the “ink well” monument. The students observed contemporary urban landscapes like freeways, airports and stadiums and the lasting impact on communities of color. Students then wrote an analytical article spotlighting a cause for generational wealth inequities.

The Black Student Union at Santa Monica High School hosted a spirit week, a movie night and plan on having an Apollo Night Talent Show in early March. Additionally, teachers have held class specific activities. English teacher, Andrea Shore, wanted to celebrate Black joys. Therefore, she created Black History Month trivia teaching students about objects still used today that were invented by Black Americans, such as the gear shifter. While English teacher, Ryan Blanck, started off his classes by sharing a poem or spoken word performance by Black poets. In his AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class the students are researching and writing short essays about the Negro Baseball Leagues and the recent decision to elevate them to “Major League” status.

“Teaching children about the importance of diversity, inclusion, equity and identity is necessary for the success of all students,” said Dr. Ben Drati, SMMUSD Superintendent. “I am happy that the Board of Education adopted the Black History Month resolution, but I am even happier that the children in our district are learning about diversity and inclusion in creative and unique ways.

I look forward to the day that there would not be a need to identify specific months to encourage the full teaching of American History in order to correct what is not being taught in traditional everyday curriculum. I am glad that the country has actually evolved in recognizing the deficit in curriculum and look forward to how education evolves moving forward.”

Submitted by: Gail Pinkser, PIO