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‘We’re looking to get it right’: Monumental changes ahead for how Virginia students learn Black history

Virginia Board of Education approved edits to history Standards of Learning

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Right now, educators are working on a monumental change to Virginia’s Standards of Learning in history and social science by adding more African American history to the curriculum framework.

The Virginia Board of Education approved a list of recommended edits in October, but that does not mean the work stops there.

“It just warms my heart that here in Virginia, we’re looking to get it right ,” said Dr. Crystal M. Edwards, superintendent of Lynchburg City Schools.

The “it” Edwards is referring to is history no longer being taught to elementary, middle and high school students from one perspective. Now, lessons on African American history aren’t going to start with slavery. For information on why educators in Southwest Virginia believe this is beneficial for students of all backgrounds, click here.

Shifting the perspective was the main priority of the Virginia African American History Education Commission when it started in 2019. Dr. Edwards is among its members.

“I worked with some phenomenal educators, parents, students, consultants, there were people from history museums. It was a wonderful collaboration of individuals all committed to really looking at our African American history through a different lens,” Edwards said.

This approval came right on time.

Christonya Brown, Virginia Department of Education’s history and social science coordinator, said it is in Virginia Code that standards are only revised every seven years. The commission did recommend that is also changed to allow more inclusive input but that has yet to be approved.

Brown told 10 News it’s a watershed moment; a big win for both educators and students.

“It means as they (students) are entering their adult life they are able to see the contributions of not only the group they belong to but others as well. They are able to see the contributions and the voices, that African Americans have contributed to not only our national history but the history of the commonwealth," said Brown.

To get the job done, the commission split into small groups. One group looked at standards and where to make edits at the elementary, middle and high school level.

“For example, in Virginia history there was a greater emphasis on the great migration. They recommended an expansion of the civil rights movement, there were things left out,” said Brown, in reference to edits at the high school level.

For the elementary school level, Brown said the commission focused on the people who were highlighted and made additions there. For middle schoolers, the commission looked at the language when they are describing the first Africans.

The goal of the edits were to weave in African American history into American history instead of it being separate like it is in some cases during Black History Month.

Edwards said there can be a somewhat of a soft approach to the teaching of African American history.

“A lot of work was done to really present that in a more accurate light that reflects what actually happened but also in a way again that shows the connection to African American history, to building this country, to the economics, colonialism, all of that,” Edwards said.

The other group dedicated their time to professional development, getting a head start on how educators will learn and teach the information.

Right now Brown’s team is working with college and university staff members in the commonwealth who study and research African American history to help provide content. Due to COVID-19, they can’t really have in-person professional development, so the plan is to record professors for teachers to learn.

“We should. by the beginning of the year. have recorded sessions with the college professors to offer content. It’s an ongoing process that we knew was coming so we tried to be proactive and start working with college professors, and also our local museums,” Brown said.

Her team is working with Virginia history museums to use actual artifacts to help with professional develop. The team is also already meeting with social studies supervisors across the commonwealth to loop them in on the process.

As for the students, Edwards believes they are ready.

“Now they (students) are registered to vote, they are practicing their civil duty, they are uniting and they are taking up causes and showing that at a very young age that they have the power to make a difference," Edwards said.

There is still a lot of work ahead, but Edwards is confident it will be worth it.

“It really means a lot to our students, all of our students, that we get this right. And when they walk into a classroom there is a confident educator there who is skilled in culturally-relevant teaching,” said Edwards.

The board is expected to adopt the new standards in 2022.


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