NEW ROCHELLE, NY — In an effort to expand the Social Studies curriculum to include black history beyond February, Henry Barnard Early Childhood Center students started exploring the topics of slavery and freedom in January, reading about the Underground Railroad and its heroes, and working on two art projects commemorating Harriet Tubman and the enslaved people she helped to seek freedom.
Kindergarteners are creating their own quilt codes, inspired by those used by enslaved people on their flight to freedom, while first-graders are creating a mosaic of Harriet Tubman.
“She was brave, and she helped a bunch of slaves escape slavery,” first-grader Jodi Dukes said of Tubman.
“She (Tubman) took them in the night so other people couldn’t see them,” added classmate Moises Reyes, equally demonstrating his preliminary knowledge of Tubman’s place in history.
Dukes said she was “getting into” the art project, carried out while gym class was taking place on the gymnasium floor, complete with background music.
“When the music’s on, I get to focus on what I’m doing,” she added.
The Tubman mosaic will grace the wall at the Feb. 10 Annual Black History Month Celebration at New Rochelle High School.
Artist Gina Kingsley said mosaics make great art projects for students. This one has been created with small pieces of paper, red cloth and white wallpaper.
“It’s something kids can do and feel satisfied,” she said. “It always looks beautiful. When it hangs on the wall, they say, ‘Look at that spot I did,’ and it gives them pride.
Kindergarten Teacher Candace Pinn, who heads the Westchester Alliance of Black School Educators, feels that when black history is introduced in the younger grades, it starts healthy conversations at an early age about resilience, courage and overcoming adversity. She adds that integrating stories about the contributions of black Americans provides a more complete picture of the birth and development of the nation.
“Black History Month gives us an opportunity to correct history, and art projects like these provide an entry point to learn this history in a meaningful and significant way,” said Pinn. “Yes, some of these stories look back at events that are extremely painful in our nation’s history. But if students do not know them, they cannot become informed citizens who will contribute to society in positive ways. The obstacles that enslaved people and black Americans overcame are important takeaways for all of us.”
Additionally, students have been reading books about Tubman, escaped slave Henry “Box” Brown and others. The lessons, taking the students up to the Civil Rights era, will run through February.