The Black History Month celebration at Heritage Middle School has taken various forms this school year, from dozens of posters of Black heroes and history-makers lined up along the school’s staircase to a weekly online newsletter that features activities, important dates in Black history and poems by famous Black poets read by staff and students.
The newest feature this year: interactive placemats with QR codes that link to videos, activities and information for students to explore at their lunch tables.
“Black History Month is something we always take seriously,” Principal Dru Tomlin said. “The curveball that’s been given to us is the challenge of time. So how do we continue to shine a light on the historical and cultural importance of this month but also honor teachers’ instructional time as well?”
The placemats offered a solution that brought the information from the newsletters into students’ hands as well as creating an educational opportunity for them during lunch.
“With our kids, they don’t normally get to use their cell phones during lunch,” Tomlin said. “Now we let them know, ‘All right you get to use your cell phones during lunch. But here’s what you get to do. Scan the QR code and learn something new.’ It was interesting seeing kids getting into it.”
The newsletter, which is available to students and families through Schoology, takes an interdisciplinary approach so students can experience Black History Month through the lens of different content areas. For example, one newsletter included links to videos about famous historical figures in subjects such as social studies (Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice), math (Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician), science (Mae Jemison, first Black female in space) and art (artist Jean Michel Basquiat).
The placements have also included QR codes that link to recorded interviews with the school’s Black History Month Heroes. The Heritage Huskies will hear from: Desmond Fernandez, a former Heritage student; L'Nard Tufts, a former Heritage student and product design engineer for Ford Motor Company; Josh Dobbs, a rocket scientist and quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Yolanda Harris, a news anchor for WBNS-10TV.
Seventh-grader Makayla Bennett is a fan of the placements and has started to watch one of the videos in the newsletter.
“I like how they are set up,” she said.
Seventh-grader Kyra Holmes agrees.
“It’s really well designed,” she said. “There’s a lot of cool information on it. There’s a bunch of cool videos and I like how the placemats are set up like a dinner table. I like how it has the dates of important events and things that happened.”
Holmes appreciates how Heritage has embraced Black History Month.
“I like how our school has so much about Black history,” she said. “If you walk up the staircase, there’s a whole wall of Black history and important events. Then you walk around the school, there’s different stuff all around. It’s really cool.”