To help honor Black history and culture during Black History Month, the Stoughton Area School District featured nightly “read-alouds” of books by Black authors throughout February.
At 7 p.m. every night, the district posted on its Facebook page a video of a student, staff member, community member or guest reading a book. Guests included City of Stoughton Mayor Tim Swadley, State Assembly Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee) and state Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
Kegonsa Elementary School principal Erin Conrad and Kegonsa library media specialist Kristin Rosenberg led the project, which started this fall when elementary school librarians were figuring out books to buy to support the district’s professional practice goals.
“(It’s) through circles, processes, reading, and research, I will increase my understanding of my racial identity, the history and role of race/racism in schools, institutional power, and structural oppression to increase justice for students in SASD,” Rosenberg wrote in an email to the Hub. “I got to spend a day in October researching and ordering books that feature characters of color.”
When Conrad said she wanted to have members of the community read books for Black History Month, Rosenberg was all for it.
“I was really excited because I would get a chance to highlight some of the books that we had just purchased,” she said. “When someone picks a book that they want to record, I get them the book and I tell them what to do so we follow copyright protocol and remove the recording by March 31.”
The month-long series is part of the district’s continuing efforts to educate students on racism and equity issues.
Earlier this year, River Bluff Middle School eighth graders read, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You,” by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram Kendi. In an email to families, River Bluff principal Trish Gates explained the value of having all the students reading the same book together.
“Shared texts allow students to dive into ideas together and gain insight from the differing perspectives of their peers,” she wrote. “Even though the text is common, all readers bring their background, experiences, beliefs, etc. when interacting with text.”
The original, written by Kendi, received the National Book Award Nomination for nonfiction in 2016, and he later partnered with Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress, to reimagine the book for younger audiences. In the letter, Gates said the book looks at the history of racism in America, and “asks young people to think about how that history impacts the world they are living in today.”
“Reynolds makes complex ideas more approachable and asks young people to examine that information with an open mind – the book has written into it times for reflection and thought,” she wrote. “It isn’t about teaching students what to think. It is about teaching students how to think, which is a skill that can be practiced in other aspects of their world.”