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New elective class helping students better understand Black history

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Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 11, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS — A new elective class at a local high school is helping students gain a better understanding of Black history.

"Black History in America" is a new course being offered at Rampart High School in Academy School District 20 for the first time this year.

"I wanted to learn more about my history and how I came from Africa," said Sebastien Jean, Senior at Rampart High School.

It's not just a class for Jean whose parents immigrated from Haiti.

"Last class, we talked about the Slave Revolts. Being Haitian, I got to talk about us being the first major one," said Jean.

Lessons that he's been able to share with his parents, and learn more about his ancestors.

"How there were slaves in Africa, and we were forced to come to America. There was a slave community and culture before we were forced to be here," said Jean. "It was the second day of class that I came home and said mom did you know there were slaves before we came over here, she was like of course."

"In the study of United States History, there had been this part missing. We always studied politics and wars, but we're never studying people, especially African American people in America. It's like this big skip from the Civil War to Martin Luther King Jr. I just feel like to contextualize my understanding of American History, understanding culture and society is important," said Daniel Ballard, Senior at Rampart High School.

Ballard took the class last semester to gain a better understanding of American history as a whole.

"I feel like knowing things about someone's culture allows this next level of empathy, especially in this modern political landscape it's such a challenge to understand other people's point of view. So gaining this broader perspective on history, culture, and society has been incredibly impactful. It's allowed me to have new ideas and conversations with different people," said Ballard.

The lesson that resonated the most with him was the unit on the Civil Rights Movement.

"For so long you only learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and peaceful protests but there is also this other side with Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Black Panthers. All of these other aspects of that area you just don't learn," said Ballard.

"Black History in America" is a class two years in the making.

"John Lewis, the great congressman, and Civil Rights figure, had died in June or July of that summer. My principal Pete Alvarez and I thought this generation really needed to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement as some of these important figures we're passing away," said Nicholas Psarakis, Social Studies Teacher at Rampart High School. "The curriculum has three units. The first one I've titled is from slavery and freedom, and it's from the beginnings of the Slave Trade in Africa to the Civil War. The second unit I've titled is Segregation and freedom, and it's from the Civil War to just before Civil Rights Movement. The third unit is Civil Rights and Freedom, and that's about the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s."

Psarakis says he wanted to close the gap from the Reconstruction era to Jim Crowe.

"Typically American History classes talk about slavery and colonial America, but they don't talk about slavery until they get to the Civil War and then reconstruction ends and we stop talking about Black people," said Psarakis.

He says it's a typical history class that uses a textbook to learn about the past. He also utilizes documents and artifacts of the past.

"Images, personal accounts, those are things historians do to learn about the past and then we talk about it. This is something that historians have been doing since Socrates, we ask questions and do it in an inquiry way," said Psarakis. "Black History isn't a controversial issue. It should not be threatening to anyone when our young people want to know more about who they are and their past."

"It's been so cool to watch our students take this class and then tell us how they are a different being for being in the class. They talk about empathy, the conversations they've had with each other, and the love they have for their fellow human who has a different life story than they do. This is exactly what we want our students to be doing and taking into their future," said Allison Cortez, Chief Communications Officer for Academy School District 20.

"I really feel like this class should be a part of regular history class. It shouldn't be something you opt into, it should be something everybody is learning about," said Ballard.

"I think if we can get an understanding of history then we can gain a better understanding as a country and society," said Jean.