Canterbury Students Celebrate Black History Month

As February draws to a close, we wanted to take some time to reflect on Black History Month. While our faculty strives to include minority voices, stories, and culture throughout the curriculum year-round, our students engaged in some powerful discussions and projects this month to highlight the contributions African Americans have made to our country.
For World Read Aloud Day, our fifth-grade English students had the chance to meet author and illustrator Vashti Harrison. She illustrated the New York Times’ Bestseller Hair Love, and now she has published Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Vashti walked the students through how she researches the historical figures for her books, as well as why she works digitally for illustrations. Mrs. Hall, the fifth-grade English teacher, remarked, “It was beautiful hearing her speak about her passion for illustrating and writing. It was an impactful experience for our storytellers.”

In both Visual Art class and Advisory, our Middle School students had the chance to draw famous figures from Black History. From Serena Williams to Sojourner Truth, each student got to pick someone who they respect and admire. Seventh-graders Max D. ’26 and Sofia V. ’26 organized a unique banner of inspirational people for Black History month with their advisory, assigning each classmate a particular tile that would eventually build part of someone’s face. “It took some time to organize and I even had to ask people to recolor or edit their work. We wanted this to look as cool as possible,” said Max.
Our Social Studies classes in particular embraced Black History Month in the classroom. U.S. History Teacher in the Middle School, Mrs. West, had her students examine the life story of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to juxtapose their lessons on the Civil War. Across the hall, Government and Economics teacher Mrs. Dunavant had her eighth-graders focus on the civil rights movement and the contrasting philosophies of leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. In the Upper School, Mr. Zoltan had his Ancient World History class study the activism of Tupac and compare it with what they are currently learning about enslavement in Rome and Pompeii. Mr. Cross and Mr. Nelson both dedicated time in the Upper School American History classes to the Harlem Renaissance. Mrs. Sizemore had her AP Psychology students tackle the pivotal work of Kenneth Bancroft Clark, whose psychological findings helped show the dangers of segregation and greatly influenced the Supreme Court. Dr. Young’s AP World History and Modern World History classes have covered everything from the role of Blacks in the Atlantic Revolutions (American Colonies, French, Haitian, and Latin American), the Abolition process around the world, and how this influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Advisories also took the time to talk about race and stereotypes. Yannisah F. ’26 shared that she does not agree with the title of “African American” because she is Haitian American. This raised a discussion with her classmates over why broad terms like “Mexican” or “Chinese” are used instead of the specific nationality of the person. Yannisah was a great leader in these discussions, and one of her teachers, Kim West, noted, “She’s not afraid to ask questions and ask her peers to challenge themselves. As educators, we need to facilitate these conversations and learn from our amazing students.”  

Yannisah even shared some of her family histories during Advisory. Her family was the only black family on the Titanic. The LaRoche Family (Joseph, Juliette, Louise, and Simone) were traveling back to Haiti to have their third child. They rode in the Second Class but faced racism because much of the family only spoke French and Creole. Joseph died in the sinking, but Juliette and her children made it off alive; Louise later served on the Titanic Historical Society.  Yannisah said, “The story of the Titanic isn’t about Leonardo DiCaprio; it’s the story of so many immigrants below decks moving to improve their lives for their children. And that my family is part of that story is so interesting. But I’m also aware that if they all had died or if Louise had not been in the Historical Society, the LaRoche family story would most likely have been buried.” 

As the rest of the semester continues, we look forward to seeing our teachers actively discuss the role of minorities in history and culture.