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Sierra Kaler-Jones was not your traditional dance teacher.
When Kaler-Jones taught dance, his students didn’t just come for dance lessons. Her classes included lessons on black history and women’s history, as well as extensive conversations about the world happening.
Many of Kaler-Jones students যাদের most of whom are black হয়নি have not been taught important black persona or positive history lessons from a non-white school perspective. When she discovered it, Kaler-Jones began weaving a culturally responsive lesson plan into her dance class. That early turn into a much bigger project.
“As I had conversations with young people in the dance classroom, we started thinking together about what it would be like to create our own curriculum.” Kaler-Jones said. “I’ve really started to play with what an independence curriculum can be, especially for the benefit of black girls.”
About three years ago, as part of her thesis, when she returned to school to pursue a doctorate in education from the University of Maryland-College Park, Caller-Jones decided to start a program called Black Girls SOAR (Scholarship, Organizing, Arts). Prevention) to bring her ideas about the empowerment of black girls to more students and educators. Co-designed with a handful of black girls in Washington, DC, and South Carolina, the program focuses on research- and art-based projects around black history and the history of feminist thought, Afro-futurism, and organization and activism.
When the epidemic hit just before the program launched in the summer of 2020, Kaler-Jones turned to a completely virtual model, where girls meet once a week for two hours. They will break into virtual circles to speak through a prompt and then work together on artwork. Creating a sense of community around and for black girls was a key element of the program – and perhaps the students who worked as co-researchers with Caller-Jones had the greatest impact.
Efe, a senior at a public high school in Washington, D.C., said, “A program focusing on black girls and women is something that is not really done in a school setting, when people talk about black girls and black women in U.S. history classes. Like slaves, “he added. “A lot of accomplishments and celebrations are given to black men.”
With Kaler-Jones, Efe said he and his co-researchers learned about history and resistance through the eyes of black women. In one lesson, for example, they talked about the Louisiana Tignon Act, which began in 1786, forcing free black women to wear head scarves to cover their hair; The scarf was a slave’s badge. Black women at the time obeyed the law, but made bright cloth head scarves, sometimes adorned with feathers and jewelry, intended as a sign of inferiority, transforming her into a symbol of wealth and creativity.
“A lot of co-researchers really resonated with that story because they were opposed to dress code principles in their school and they said, ‘Wait, we’ve been doing this forever, haven’t we?’ It’s like we’re part of who we are, “said Kaler-Jones, who also serves as director of nonprofit community storytelling for the Just School Fund.
Treva B. Lindsay, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Ohio State University, says schools also often focus on disciplining rather than listening to black girls. Programs like Kaler-Jones could be a positive step, he said.
“So often schools are not a very warm place for black girls,” Lindsay said. “We’re not even going to the curriculum, because often we try to discipline, manage, monitor, and polish how black girls look in institutional spaces, as opposed to ensuring a wide range of possibilities for black girls and how they look up.”
Towards the end of the three-month program, the girls had in-depth conversations with loved ones – mothers, grandmothers, aunts and friends – to serve as oral histories of their experiences at different times in their lives. Based on these stories, the girls created artwork, which they presented at a community art showcase called #HistoryRwritten. The name of the event was Efe, the brainchild of the senior. Kaler-Jones found it appropriate because students were “essentially rewriting the corporate curriculum.”
Since the program’s inception, Kaler-Jones and his co-researchers have presented their research at multiple conferences organized by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the Critical Race Studies for Education (CRSEA). This summer, Kaler-Jones plans to enroll a new group of researchers and hire graduates from previous teams as mentors and co-teachers.
Effe, a high school student, says programs like Black Girls SOAR, which highlights the lives and contributions of black girls and women, are important because “when you don’t see yourself as positive, it only negatively affects how you see yourself.”
“I think focusing only on all those parts where black men and black women and black girls can be themselves,” he added, “can express itself in this positive light, completely different from what you see in a school setting.”
Produced this story about black girls Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter