03.08.2021

iLEAD Lancaster Challenges Learners through Power of Black History

Martin Luther King Jr. desegregation march

Michael Niehoff
Education Content Coordinator, iLEAD Schools

In this historic moment, we are collectively experiencing heightened awareness and discussion of race and racism and simultaneously seeing a rise in young people’s civic engagement. With this in mind, the 6th grade team at iLEAD Lancaster embarked on a unique and impactful project: The Power of History through Truth, Acceptance and Action.

The Impetus

This project — launched by facilitators Elizabeth Gill, Bryant Albert and Terrance Holloway — challenged learners to identify a key figure in Black history as a means to deep-dive into the key issues of racism, antiracism, bias, conscious bias, systemic racism and current civic and cultural events.

“We wanted to have learners investigate a key historical figure and then apply the history to their life situation,” Gill said. “We wanted to make the learning personal.”

The Driving Question, Real-World Connections

iLEAD Lancaster’s 6th graders were introduced to the following driving question: “How can I use my platform/voice with Black history to impact my ideologies, and socioeconomic structures in my community today?” Then they embarked on a learning journey, researching history and producing multiple public products, including a public service announcement, weekly blog posts and the final Presentation of Learning.

This was a fairly demanding project for 6th grade, but Gill was confident the learners could rise to the challenge for an authentic learning experience.

“A lot of relevance came out of this project,” Gill said. “All the learners can go forward making change in the world.”

Albert agreed that this was a challenging project, but he believed it was important and the learners were motivated by events taking place in the world around them. Albert said that many of the learners had discussed sensitive and dynamic issues of race during advisory discussions, which had added to the urgency of this project.

“They are really starting to notice what’s happening in the world and in their communities,” Albert said. “And they are trying to process their place in all of this.”

Albert said the learning included not only antiracism work but also other current social issues, such as challenges in the LGTBQ+ community.

“I remember one learner sharing how they were afraid to leave home at times,” Albert said. “This is real stuff that they are experiencing. They are starting to become advocates, and I think this is why they connected to this project.”

For All Learners

Gill, Albert and Holloway pointed out that this project is for all learners, regardless of their race.

“Even learners who are not African-American understand and can engage with what’s happening,” Albert said.

The facilitators cite one experience where a learner of Indian descent stepped out of her comfort zone and became very focused on the challenges facing women of color.

“That’s what this project is all about. They all know we have to focus on this together,” Albert said. “They begin to think about what changes they can make and how they affect their communities.”

Learner Feedback

The learners were enthusiastic about the success of this project as well.

Mike McCaslin, a 6th grader, appreciated the scope and context of this project. “We need the whole picture because it shows us what the people in the past have experienced,” McCaslin said. “Without this work, it could be forgotten. To change, we need to see what they went through.”

Another 6th grader, Javon Williams, felt this project made him more aware and ultimately more empathetic. “If someone is getting bullied or mistreated, I want to help. If a cop is being racist, then we have to be able to say that’s wrong,” Williams said. “I just don’t get why some people get treated differently.”

Omeesha Srivastava, 6th grade, thinks she and her peers are ready to not only be aware of these issues but to start taking action as well. “Civil rights are important because it means we have political and social equality,” Srivastava said. “Activists have been willing to die to create a more just, equal world. They cared about the future, and we can do the same.”

Impact

Gill said parents were also appreciative of the learning experience and gave feedback during the Presentations of Learning.

“Many parents expressed being grateful for their learners being able to have these conversations,” Gill said.
Gill added that this project seemed to invite quieter learners to become more interactive. She said she saw growth in learners in the areas of confidence and self-advocacy.

“As the only female facilitator on the team, I was really impressed with our female learners,” Gill said. “They started to realize there are important figures in Black history who are women. They started to have conversations that this isn’t just a man’s world.”

This project led to more learners asking about their own cultural history and future potential projects.

“A lot of our Latinx learners have now begun asking about Latinx history,” Albert said. “They are finding their voice and wanting to become change agents.”

Going Forward

These skills of self-advocacy, civic engagement, self-empowerment and public speaking are going to continue to be part of future projects, according to these facilitators. The last big project for this year will be the Resilience Cafe, where learners create a spoken-word piece about both a historical figure and a community member making an impact.

“Doing this type of learning is inspirational to others,” Gill said. “Learners become more empowered going into their young adult lives.”

Samples of Learner Work

Michael McCaslin Power of History Report

Valeria Morales Historical Figure Essay 

Zihni Terry’s Power of History Report

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