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Utah School Permits Students to Not Participate in Black History Month Curriculum

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A charter school in Utah is receiving backlash after allowing parents to have their children opt-out of Black History Month.

What We Know:

  • Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden, Utah, has opened a debate on whether or not parents have the option to excuse their children from lessons on Black history. According to the school’s director, Micah Hirokawa, a ‘few’ families had requested not to participate in any curriculum related to Black History Month.
  • On Friday, Hirokawa released a statement via the school’s Facebook page to confirm that he had sent out a letter that allowed families “to exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school.”

In the statement, Hirokawa also claims he is deeply disappointed in the parents’ decision writing, “We should not shield our children from the history of our Nation, the mistreatment of its African American citizens, and the bravery of civil rights leaders, but should educate them about it.”

  • Maria Montessori Academy caters to educate elementary and middle school students. Throughout the month of February, the school incorporates Black history into its regular social studies and history lessons. Following a nation-wide backlash, the statement has since been recanted on another Facebook statement posted last Sunday.
  • Among those opposed to the original statement was Betty Sawyer, president of the NAACP’s Ogden branch. Sawyer contacted the school about its decision and considers it to have influenced their choices. Sawyer told USA Today, “Authentically teaching Black History as American History allows our youth to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to be inclusive of others and cultivates a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. While this decision was recently reversed, we find its very consideration troubling.”

The Utah State Board of Education shows the academy has a total of 322 students, and only three of those students are Black.

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Education

Furman University Unveils Statue of its First Black Student

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Joseph Vaughn attended Furman University back in 1965.

What We Know:

  • A statue of Vaughn, the school’s first African-American student, was revealed on Friday, April 16th, 2021, in Greenville, SC. The statue was modeled after a photo of Vaughn walking up to the school’s library. Vaughn died in 1991 and served as president of the Greenville and Southeast NAACP student chapters. He graduated Cum Laude in 1968 before becoming a teacher in Greenville County.
  • He also served as the president of both the Greenville County Association of Teachers and the South Carolina Education Association. Qwameek Bethea, a senior student and president of Furman’s NAACP chapter was the one who convinced the university to build the statue. Vaughn was not originally welcomed by everyone on campus when he became a student. Vaughn allegedly found a noose hanging from his doorknob one morning shortly after he arrived.
  • The Vaughn statue was two years in the making and is part of a larger movement the University began in 2017. The Task Force on Slavery and Justice was created out of inspiration from an op-ed written in 2016. The piece was written by a student of the school and notably questioned the University’s legacy. Vaughn’s statue is one of a dozen recommendations the group proposed to the University for approval.
  • The school expanded its Joseph Vaughn scholarship for students in 2018 and renamed one of its dormitories after Clark Murphy, a black groundskeeper at the school, in 2020. Vaughn is the first person of color whose likeness is featured prominently on the Furman campus. The original unveiling of the statue was planned to be in January but was rescheduled due to high rates of coronavirus around the community at the time.

Members of Vaughn’s family showed up for the occasion as well, noting that Vaughn stood for “an instrument of change.”

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Education

College Student, 12, To Major In Astronomical Science To Become NASA Engineer

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A gifted 12-year-old is now a soon-to-be college student

What We Know:

  • Alena Wicker will be virtually attending Arizona State University this May after she graduates high school. The young Texas native plans to dual major in astronomical and planetary science and chemistry to further her dream of working as an engineer at NASA. 
  • Her mother, Daphne McQuarter, told Good Morning America that her daughter’s natural talent first garnered her attention when she started playing with Legos. Her passion for building, rearranging, and creating new lego projects began when she was 4-years-old. 
  • Aside from continuing to create Lego masterpieces, like the Taj Mahal, Alena has also created a number of programs to help other young women of color. Her website Brown Stem Girl acknowledges the racial and gender disparities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields and provides resources for girls of color interested in STEM. Among other projects, Alena plans to debut a children’s book soon called “Brainiac World” to discourage kids from teasing and also has her own podcast about featuring women in STEM
  • Despite being a child prodigy, Alena insists she’s just like other kids. She loves hanging out with her friends, going to the movies, watching TV, singing, and running track and field. She knows her journey through college might be challenging, but Alena is not one to be discouraged. “All my life, people are trying to hold me down because of my age,” she stated.  

We’re excited to see what Alena’s future will hold!

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Education

Texas Students Disciplined for ‘Slave-Trading Game’ That Auctioned off Classmates

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A group of students at a Texas school was disciplined for setting up an online slave-trading forum where they pretended to auction off their classmates of a different race.

What We Know:

  • A student at the Aledo Independent School District posted a screenshot of the game on the social media site Snapchat. In the photo, a group chat with the name “Slave Trade” can be seen. One student indicated they would pay $1 for a classmate, who “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
  • In a statement issued Monday, the school district said it discovered that students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus had engaged in cyberbullying and racial harassment over two weeks ago. The school district stated they began an “immediate and thorough investigation” with authorities into the matter.
  • The district held conversations with the student body at once and communicated with the students and parents of those involved. The Aledo ISD wanted to make it clear that “statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”
  • Tony Crawford, a local activist, says the situation is another example of an ever-growing list of incidents that get swept under the rug. In March, a Mississippi teacher drew criticism for a homework assignment that asked students to “pretend they’re slaves.” Many called the assignment “tone-deaf” for asking students to write letters to their families back in Africa.

The district did not specify what discipline the students received, nor how many were involved in the incident.

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