Dr. John C. Wickwire Academy in Liverpool and North Queens Community School in Caledonia are among the Queens County schools engaging students in various activities in recognition of February as Nova Scotia’s African Heritage Month.
The theme in this year’s celebration is Black History Matters: Listen, Learn, Share and Act.
Erica Langille, the teacher for Grades 1 to 2 at Wickwire, said the students began discussions in January about the famed American social rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr. They read a book about him and watched part of his speech.
“It wasn’t so much about what he said, for my students, but how he said it,” observed Langille.
The discussions focused on his dream, racism and segregation, and culminated in what the students could do to change the world.
Earlier this month, discussions also touched upon different symbols that represent African culture. According to Langille, Kente cloths that are bright and worn for celebrations are what stand out for her. The students made some with paper and discussed what the colours they chose meant to them.
They also talked about African American inventors.
“I think it’s very important, because for many years we suppressed these people and did not allow them to speak about their history and culture,” commented Langille. ‘I think they need to be celebrated and their culture expressed. If we don’t teach our students about their history, how do we ever build upon that culture?”
Meanwhile, Phil Prendergast, a behaviour support and resource teacher at North Queens Community School, has been leading activities in that school this month.
“We are focusing on achievements and celebration – historical and contemporary,” he said. “Usually the standard for African Heritage Month is to just put up a poster. We didn’t want to stop there, but to go above and beyond that.”
While the students did put up posters, the artwork included cut-outs of different colours of hands from elementary students that were placed around the poster.
Staff and students also started a trivia contest for the school. Each day Grade 7 students ask a question during the announcements. Students from Grades 2 to 12 then can look up the answers.
The classes with the most participation can win a weekly prize and, at the end of the month, a pizza party will be held for the winning class.
Elementary students also were expected to begin making bracelets adorned in African colours, and one class had started a “history gram,” highlighting the accomplishments of African Canadians.
The aim of African Heritage Month is to recognize the important legacy of people of African descent and their long-standing history in the development of Canada. It also brings focus and increased awareness of racialized issues and further calls on people to listen, share and act to make society a better place.
Paul Ash, the regional executive director for the South Shore Regional Centre of Education, maintained that recognizing the contributions and learning about African Nova Scotians is “absolutely critical.”
“It is extremely important that our students and communities see themselves reflected in our formal and informal curriculum,” Ash, who is of Canadian-African descent, commented in an email. “It is equally important that all of our students are exposed to learning opportunities to understand different lived experiences and histories as they prepare to enter into a much smaller world than previous generations.”
While Ash recognized the value in having a designated month recognizing African Nova Scotians, he suggested more has to be done to break down social barriers.
“Celebrations and activities are extremely important, but it will be the daily conversation and interactions that will impact our student level of knowledge and understanding of our African Nova Scotian/African Canadian Community,” he said.
Nova Scotia has more than 50 historic African Nova Scotian communities with a history dating back more than 400 years.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin