Petition asks Portage county schools to incorporate more Black history in classrooms

Kent State University alumna Angie Bryant is no stranger to making headlines. The former Portage County case manager was featured in two Record-Courier articles within the last five years. One for a workshop she created with Kent State assistant director of donor recognition programs Latasha Dukes, on strengthening the family and the community and another on June 11, 2020, for a Black lives matter protest she led outside the Kent police station.

This time, Bryant is garnering attention for a June 2020 petition she constructed on Change.org. The petition titled, “Implement African American history into lesson plans in Portage county schools” came about while Bryant emailed to the Kent and Ravenna superintendents and has since amassed 308 signatures for its 500-intended goal.

According to the appeal, the celebration of all things Black during the month of February globally is pivotal, but explores the idea of having a year-round curriculum of African American history lessons, starting from grade K-12 to educate and break social barriers in Portage county schools.

According to the Ohio Department of Education’s 2019, “learning standards for social studies”, the conversation surrounding the early development of Ohio and the United States begins as early as the fourth grade. 

Assistant superintendent of Kent city schools Tom Larkin states that all Ohio schools have to follow the ODOE guidelines. 

Assistant superintendent Tom Larkin, (left) with son Riley Larkin, (center) and wife Amy Larkin (right.) Photo provided by jcusports.com

“The state of Ohio and the Ohio Department of Education, they make the standards for the schools to teach,” Larkin said. “Now obviously, schools can add to that also, but again, that’s the basic math that’s used for curriculum in any subject area or grade level.”

These Ohio standards of teaching were adopted in 2010 and are revised yearly.

One organization that is in support of this petition is Portage county’s NAACP. The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909, by W.E.B. Du Bois and many other civil rights activists to fight for equity and the rights of all people. 

Kent State executive director of human resources employee engagement and president of Portage county’s NAACP Geraldine Nelson said that the group is in full support of more inclusion of African American history in public schools.

President of Portage county NAACP Geraldine Nelson. Picture provided by Kent State University.

“We should learn all history, not part of the history,” Nelson said.

The organization is currently examining the policies at Rootstown high school after the school’s recent racial injustice.These issues are a part of Nelson’s responsibilities as president and more of a reason to educate students at a young age about race said Nelson.

According to a 2015 report done by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Oberg research, only 8% or 9% of history class time is devoted to Black history in U.S. schools. This is mainly due to teacher’s lack of content knowledge, confidence, time, resources and concern with students’ maturity levels when approaching difficult knowledge.

Because of this, Nelson believes that the education needs to happens outside of the classrooms as well.

These Ohio standards of teaching were adopted in 2010 and are revised yearly.

One organization that is in support of this petition is Portage county’s NAACP. The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909, by W.E.B. Du Bois and many other civil rights activists to fight for equity and the rights of all people. 

Kent State executive director of human resources employee engagement and president of Portage county’s NAACP Geraldine Nelson said that the group is in full support of more inclusion of African American history in public schools.

“We should learn all history, not part of the history,” Nelson said.

The organization is currently examining the policies at Rootstown high school after the school’s recent racial injustice.These issues are a part of Nelson’s responsibilities as president and more of a reason to educate students at a young age about race said Nelson.

According to a 2015 report done by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Oberg research, only 8% or 9% of history class time is devoted to Black history in U.S. schools. This is mainly due to teacher’s lack of content knowledge, confidence, time, resources and concern with students’ maturity levels when approaching difficult knowledge.

Because of this, Nelson believes that the education needs to happens outside of the classrooms as well.

“It goes beyond the history, it’s a part of watching T.V. and being set the standard of beauty that you saw all the time on T.V.,” Nelson said. “It was always blond hair and blue eyes and not seeing people who look like you, not seeing movies where we were playing leading roles. So what it felt like was that, we’re really not a part of this American society. If you live here, you’re renting here, but you’re really not a part, so I think it’s very important for all people to have that exposure and to know a little bit about their roots because if you don’t know who you are as a people, you can never begin to…it’s very difficult for you to move forward.”

As of July, Bryant’s last petition updates are asking to push her campaign to the next level and states that Kent Roosevelt high school has improved its relationship with the African American community.

Although Larkin said he had no prior knowledge of this petition, he acknowledges that schools need to examine their classrooms more closely, given this country’s recent protests.

As of July, Bryant’s last petition updates are asking to push her campaign to the next level and states that Kent Roosevelt high school has improved its relationship with the African American community.

Although Larkin said he had no prior knowledge of this petition, he acknowledges that schools need to examine their classrooms more closely, given this country’s recent protests.

“We do have to do better,” Larkin said. “I will tell you part of our strategic plan, for the entire district, is to continue to educate ourselves and provide professional development with some of our under-represented populations. And I would hope also that schools would be doing some reflection at a state-level.”

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