On Wednesday, fourth graders at Conger Elementary in Delaware held a showcase of dozens of projects centered around Black History Month.
Amber Bauer, a fourth grade teacher at Conger and organizer of the showcase, said just before winter break, students were tasked with doing research and putting together a poster board about one African American figure from history.
Bauer said she was aware of the upcoming Black History Celebration put on by the Delaware African American Heritage Council and said Hayes High School and Dempsey Middle School would be contributing.
“I wanted the elementary to have a chance,” Bauer said. “In the past, whenever I teach black history, I always feel like I have to teach kids the sad, bad things before I can teach the good things. I just wanted to celebrate people who have done amazing things.”
Bauer said she steered students away from just choosing popular musicians or actors, and she encouraged them to research someone they didn’t know. Bauer said she chose to have students do a poster board display because it helps them focus on important pieces of information.
“It was really interesting for the kids as they learn about a person and figure out what things they can use for the display,” she said. “They’ve learned a lot, and they’ve done a good job. They found some really unique individuals.”
Fourth grader Aurora Brown focused her project on Mary Jackson, NASA’s first black engineer.
“I wanted to learn about someone I didn’t know about,” Brown said, adding she hopes to get a degree in science on day and she was inspired and encouraged by Jackson. “I really love science … She’s an inspiration to me.”
Similarly, Claire Saksa chose gold medalist Simone Manuel, because she related to her as a fellow swimmer.
“I’m a swimmer, and I wanted to recognize African American swimmers because I feel like they never get recognized,” Saksa said. “I liked doing research.”
Reggie Foli did his project on Michael Jordan, adding he didn’t really know who Jordan was when he started researching.
“I just knew he was a NBA player,” Foli said.
Foli added he learned a lot about Jordan and his career, including the fact Jordan didn’t make the varsity team in school but kept playing anyway.
One of the most passionate projects in the show belonged to Hailey Myers, who researched American astronaut Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space.
“I love NASA, and I wanted to find an astronaut,” Myers said while sporting a NASA hoodie and NASA earrings. “I picked her because she seemed really cool to learn about and it was cool to learn about her. She’s an astronaut, and I want be like her. She’s really spirited in everything.”
Myers said she wants to go to space like Jemison and was excited to learn that Jemison had the same problem as her, a fear of heights.
“She was afraid of heights, but she didn’t let that get in the way of her dream to go into space,” Myers said. “It must have been hard for her. It feels up to me to get over my fear, because I’m afraid of heights. I look up to her like that.”
Assistant Superintendent Craig Heath stopped by the showcase Wednesday, and he was excited to see students so passionate about their research.
“I like that students were able to choose the person they had to do research on,” Heath said. “It gives them a little bit of ownership of their project. We are always trying to foster voice and choice in our classes. Let’s give them a broad topic and they can dig into their own interests within it. That’s been the fun part, asking kids why they picked who they did and hearing, ‘Well, I want to be a dancer or a screenwriter like them.’ It gives them that personal connection to it.”
Heath said he was thrilled when students started trying to get his attention to look at their projects.
“You can see how excited they are,” he said. “These kids aren’t afraid to speak publicly, so it’s developing other skills outside of just developing historical or cultural aspects. They are developing presentation skills, eye contact and shaking hands. It’s all part of developing into good students and really good citizens as well.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.