Honoring Black History Month


February - week 3

This week, we share units from Pinewood’s Elementary and Secondary classes that focus on Black history and culture in the United States. We are so proud of the work that our teachers are doing to teach about diverse perspectives and challenging themes.


Fiona Gillies says about teaching black history through art, “Representing voices other than the white male gaze regarding art is a definite passion of mine, and many other art teachers.” Ms. Fiona is teaching a Faith Ringgold project with Grade 4 students at the moment. Faith Ringgold is an American artist from Harlem who is best known for her narrative quilt art

Groovin' High, 1996


In January, Ms. Erin Trotter and Ms. Karen Georgacacos and their Grade 5 students studied black history through their non-fiction reading unit. Students researched black Americans in order to learn about important themes related to race relations, civil rights, and equality.  At the same time, students practice valuable, transferable skills such as text features, note taking, and identifying key ideas to complete the research process.  

With their research, students create a visual report to highlight the life and achievements of a famous black American of their choice.  Here are the individuals that our students chose to research: Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Mohammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Simon Biles, Gabby Douglas, Lizzo, Arthur Andersen, Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington, Niel DeGrasse Tyson, Dwayne Douglas Johnson, James Meredith, and Harriet Tubman. 


In September & October, Dr. Linda Manney and her Grade 10A students read The Piano Lesson, by August Wilson. 

In preparation for reading and writing about the African-American experience, students watched and wrote about two videos on The Great Migration. We encourage you to watch them, too. 

History Brief: The Great Migration (4 minutes)

The Great Migration and the power of a single decision, by Isabel Wilkerson: TED Talk (18 minutes)

Students also watched videos of the work of Black artists who gained prominence during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s, such as Alvin Ailey and Aretha Franklin, and they talked about how August Wilson was influenced by the Black Arts Movement.  

After reading the play, students engage in a creative writing project based on important themes in The Piano Lesson, by August Wilson, wherein they are required to speak in the voice of one character from the play. 

Finally, students write a research essay which focused on a topic related to the sociocultural context of the play, The Piano Lesson. Among other things, students learn that African American Vernacular English is NOT incorrect English, but is instead a recognized dialect of modern English, with roots in plantation creoles.  This is one example of the important lessons that are learned during this unit.


Ms. Amalia Spiliakou and her middle school Art through the Ages II students travel outside the United States to study Belle, a period drama film set in the 18th century and inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral. The film revolves around the Zong Massacre of 1781 that led to the Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished British participation in the African slave trade. 


After watching the film, students study the painting about which the film was inspired. This 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle beside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, at Kenwood House, was commissioned by their great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice of England. 

David Martin, 1737 – 1797
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth
Murray, 1778, oil on canvas, Scone Palace, Scotland

February - week 2

In February, Dr. Ourania Chatsiou and her Grade 7 students focus on the genre of the personal narrative with the reading of the first chapter of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which Angelou establishes her powerful voice against racial discrimination and inequility. Using this as a springboard, students are introduced to the history of racism, the civil rights movement, and the current global situation regarding race relations in the United States.
Also in February, Dr. Ourania Chatsiou and her Grade 8 students study the poetry of Langston Hughes, George Moses Horton, and Maya Angelou. Students closely read select poems and inform their readings by choosing articles from the Guardian’s website on Black History Month. With new knowledge, they present to the class their understanding of each writer’s contribution to the empowerment of African Americans and the safeguarding of their rights. 
These 3 writers are key figures in African American literary history and ‘must reads’ for every educated person.
Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. As an African American, Angelou experienced firsthand racial prejudices and discrimination in Arkansas. Friend and fellow writer James Baldwin urged Angelou to write about her life experiences. The resulting work was the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The poignant story made literary history as the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman.
Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He was an early innovator of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Langston Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theater and politics centered in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, spanning the 1920s and 1930s.
George Moses Horton“the Black bard of North Carolina”, was an enslaved African-American poet in the antebellum south. His poetry collection, ‘The Hope of Liberty’ (1829), was intended to earn enough to purchase his freedom, but failed to do so. He did eventually become free, but not until 1865, when the  Emancipation Proclamation reached North Carolina. The Emancipation Proclamation was the order issued by President Abraham Lincoln that set the course for eventually breaking down the institution of slavery.
This week’s Black History Month Challenge: Read one poem from each writer before the end of February. Feel free to contact Dr. Chatsiou here for recommendations!

February - week 01

At Pinewood, African American history and culture and their invaluable contributions to U.S. American and world history and culture is not a separate unit to be celebrated for one month only. On the contrary, its influence is seamlessly integrated into the curriculum so that it continues to inspire students throughout the years. It also provides an important entry point for opening discussions with our students about race relations, civil rights, implicit bias, inequality, power, privilege, and so much more.
In the words of President Barack Obama in 2016, “Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history… It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America”. Accordingly, at Pinewood every month is a Black history month. 
Each week this month, we will highlight teaching units created by our teachers and taught to students during the year to tackle the invaluable work of understanding black history in the U.S. and beyond. 
– Dr. Apostolos Rofaelas & Dr. Roxanne Giampapa