CK schools celebrate Black History Month through community involvement

Steffan Collins, an African American senior at Central Kitsap High School, knows the school is making an effort — but said more needs to be done.

“They put up stuff in the hallways,” Collins, 17, said of the display case in the main hall and library board with information and pictures of distinguished African Americans in recognition of Black History Month. “They don’t do a lot in the classrooms though.”

In years past, students and faculty had criticized the district for not doing enough to include the contributions of blacks during February, Black History Month.

This year, the district arranged for a Seattle theater group, Living Voices, to perform stories on the civil rights movement at the junior high schools and high schools Wednesday, with an evening performance at Olympic High School. Information booths were set up from various community members and groups.

It may not be in the classrooms, making it part of the curriculum for all students, but Principal Stephen Coons at Central Kitsap High School said teachers were provided with guides on how to include the subject in their classrooms.

“We’ve grown in finding a match for our community,” said Leah Kyaio, the district’s diversity specialist, on the Living Voices performances that district officials hope will not only engage students but the community as a whole.

However, students like Collins do not think black history is a topic that should be covered once a year, and that being diverse means exposing other cultures’ histories as well.

“Everyone should learn more about all cultures throughout the whole year — not just one month,” he said.

A few years back, nothing was arranged by the school or district, said JD Sweet, a history teacher at Central Kitsap High School. To fill the gap, he organized a presentation in the school’s theater.

“It got a lot of good discussion and dialogue going,” Sweet said, adding that having hallway displays does not necessarily engage in student interaction.

Since having that assembly, Sweet said he has backed off from organizing any Black History Month-related school events because it shouldn’t be up to him just because he is African American. The district has stepped up.

Three years ago the district brought museum-sized panels from the U.S. Capital Historical Society in Washington, D.C. for display with information on the political roles of African Americans, said Jeni Zapatka, district mentoring specialist and U.S. History teacher at Central Kitsap. Zapatka said prior to this, nothing was done at a district-wide level for Black History Month.

The Community Leadership Coalition and Alliance, a community group made up of African Americans founded in 1998, has pushed the Central Kitsap and Bremerton school districts to account for all cultures in the schools, said Robert Boddie Jr., spokesman for the alliance. The alliance has conducted different training on teaching styles and cultural proficiency.

“We have a ways to go in this community,” Boddie said. “That’s why you have these groups to hold people accountable.”

In January 2008, the Central Kitsap School District created Kyaio’s role as the diversity specialist for the district. It also assigned a diversity team leader to every school and department. Those leaders have gone through 90 hours of diversity training, she added.

Patricia Moncure Thomas, president of the Black Historical Society of Kitsap County, said the group has been involved with giving presentations in the Central Kitsap and Bremerton school districts since the 1990s and more can always be done to educate students on cultural diversity in the classrooms.

“Black history is really a part of American history,” Thomas said. “As long as it is viewed as a separate history to be focused on temporarily once a year, it will not be a part of the mainstream of education.”

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