Hampton High School students engage in Black History Month project

Friday, February 28, 2020 | 3:21 PM

Hampton High School students in the Honors Geography and Honors English 9 combined course spent Black History Month delving  into a unique project intended to highlight “African Americans Who Shook Up The World.”

The Academic English 9 and Academic World Geography courses are blocked together to create a combined learning experience that is projects-based. Students who take the combined course are encouraged to make connections between English and Social Studies. Throughout the course of the academic year, students work through thematic units of study in the course, each with one projects-based assessment, to demonstrate mastery of the subject material.

Ms. Sarah Jabbar, who teaches the Geography portion of the course, said students were tasked with researching African Americans throughout history who were “dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.” The inspiration for the collection of African Americans included in the Hampton project came from The Undefeated’s list of 44 African Americans Who Shook up the World, said Ms. Jabbar.

After studying the Undefeated’s list for inspiration, students were required to select an African American person in history who met the criteria, and to write a claim statement about that individual’s contribution to society that qualified them as an African American who shook up the world. “It could be a music artist, an athlete, a Civil Rights pioneer,” said Ms. Jabbar. “Anyone who fit the criteria and who the students could support with their research findings was permitted for selection.”

Once students selected a person of interest, they used their research skills to collect information about that person’s life. The final component involved the use of their English skills to create the research-based information that appears on a website the students designed to display their findings.

“What many of our students discovered is that there are more African American individuals who meet the criteria of shaking up the world than those they have found in their history books,” said Ms. Jabbar.

One such individual is Claudette Colvin. A retired nurse’s aide, Ms. Colvin was a pioneer of the 1950s Civil Rights movement. Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of the bus, Ms. Colvin was engaging in the same activity. At the age of 15, Ms. Colvin was one of several African American women who quietly refused to give up their seats at the front of the bus. Most of these women did not make headlines, but were rather quietly fined for their acts of rebellion.

Ninth graders Andrea Quaglia and Hailey Wagner chose Ms. Colvin for their research project. Both said they liked the fact that she was standing up for her rights, and wanted to see her get the same kind of credit that women like Ms. Parks were receiving in the history books.

“Claudette deserves to be one of those women,” said Andrea. “She was brave for her age and stood up for her beliefs, even though she ended up being sent to prison as an adult for her actions. I think that would be terrifying, but she didn’t let it stop her.”

Hailey  agreed, saying she found inspiration in Ms. Colvin’s actions. “What researching her taught me was that even if you’re young, you can still make a difference.”

Other students in the class selected athletes and musicians for their subjects.

Ninth grader Claire Kamel focused on music artist Dr. Dre. A songwriter, rapper, entrepreneur, actor, record executive and producer and audio engineer, Claire said Dr. Dre changed the face and the future of hip-hop and rap music. “He was able to overcome a really rough childhood,” said Claire. He grew up in a world of violence and drugs, but he still was able to become successful and stay true to his music.”

One of the thing she learned about Dr. Dre that she did not previously know was that he was the founder of Beats Electronics LLC. The company, which produces audio products, is now a subsidiary of Apple – a deal that earned Dr. Dre $3.2 billion.

Classmates Kate Chapman and Olivia Hodil teamed up to research Will Smith. The students said they found him inspirational because of his influence on hip hop music and rap. “He’s also an amazing actor,” added Kate.

Kate and Olivia said Smith proved to be a challenge to research, as he has made a habit of keeping his personal life out of the media. “He likes to be private, so it was really hard to find a lot of details about his life and his childhood,” said Kate. They ended up using academic sites such as GALE to help them track down information on the elusive musician and actor.

Ms. Devon Byrne, who teaches the English component of this combined course, said the students deserve a lot of credit for the amount of thought, work and research they put into their projects. “I think this was a great exercise for them,” she said. “Not only did it provide the opportunity to collaborate, but also to celebrate the accomplishments of these African American individuals.”

Superintendent Dr. Michael Loughead said he is impressed with the work students included as part of the African Americans Who Shook Up The World project. He noted the students’ inclusion of some lesser-known African American pioneers who often are left out of the history books, but who have still achieved amazing things. “This is an excellent example of the kind of transformative learning that is occurring at Hampton, and what can happen when students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning,” he said.

The students created a website to showcase their research. It can be viewed here.