The latest news, events and updates from the San Marino USD
February 2, 2023
San Marino Unified School District is Celebrating Black History Month
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” I am always inspired by the words, deeds, and sacrifices that this world-renowned and highly celebrated leader selflessly made to end the oppression and segregation of Black people in our country that occurred historically and throughout the Civil Rights movement.  Reflecting on his words, SMUSD is on a journey that not only teaches our incredible and diverse students to engage in critical thinking but also to build strong character and empathy for all of mankind.  

All four of our schools celebrate Black History Month in February of each year.  Doing so shines a light on the exploration of the Black experience, which is a vital and significant part of our history. Moreover, it pays tribute to the innumerable sacrifices and contributions of African Americans who were instrumental in developing, supporting, and shaping our great Country as we know it today. 
Additionally, Black History Month provides our students and employees with an opportunity for discovery, exploration, empathy, and deep learning experiences that focus on the heritage, accomplishments, hardships, and culture of African Americans, all of which are deeply rooted in our country's history.  Below you will find a summary of examples of the activities and learning experiences taking place at each school during the month of February:
Carver Elementary School
Carver students are learning to explain how the present is connected to the past, identifying similarities and differences between the two. Students differentiate between primary and secondary sources and pose relevant questions about events they encounter in historical documents, eyewitness accounts, oral histories, letters, diaries, artifacts, photographs, maps, etc. Students distinguish fact from fiction by comparing documentary sources on historically relevant African American figures and events with fictionalized characters and occurrences. Students summarize the key findings of the era they are studying and explain the historical contexts of those events.

For example, in one 5th-grade class, students were given a list of historical figures to choose from for their projects.

Also, the Carver Library covers Black History Month with a rich selection of books that celebrate the achievements, contributions, and historical journeys of African Americans. These books were read to classes of students throughout this month and beyond.
Valentine Elementary School
Kindergarten students share virtual resources and literature included in their reading assignments during February. 
First-grade students will be learning about Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Jackie Robinson, and Mae Jemison through Scholastic News articles and their Journeys curriculum. They will also be listening to biographies about influential Black Americans and making posters about their contributions. 

Second-grade students will complete writing assignments on Jackie Robinson and Ruby Bridges and read stories in their classrooms that celebrate black history.  Brain Pop videos about famous African Americans will also lead classroom discussions on the importance of their contributions.

Third-grade students complete biographies of famous African Americans and display informational posters. Students read from their Scholastic News and have classroom discussions about stories they read.  In addition, students use Achieve3000 articles to highlight the contributions of and lives of African Americans.
Fourth-grade students read biographies about famous Black Americans and create posters in groups. Students will present their posters about the individual's accomplishments in front of the class. Their work will be on display for the month of February. 
Fifth-grade students read a biography of a "Blacks in History".  Each student must decide, develop, and construct an award to be given to this individual.  Besides the award, each student must write a speech that would be given at a ceremony to honor the individual. Students give speeches in class.
All grade levels read books about famous Black Americans. They watch videos and provide resources and recommendations for families at home.  ELA anthologies incorporate literature about Black Americans.

Also, the Valentine Library covers Black History Month with a rich selection of books that celebrate the achievements, contributions, and historical journeys of African Americans. These books are read to classes of students throughout this month and beyond.
Huntington Middle School
Huntington Middle School students are learning about Black History by participating in daily activities such as morning announcements read over the PA by the HMS ASB President. Announcements are then followed with a quote and brief statement about a prominent Black individual (past or present). The announcements and quotes are shared out through Schoology, our learning management system. To reinforce this, Huntington Middle School Assistant Principal Hazlett posts the morning daily announcement and quote on Instagram. Here’s an example:

Black History Month Quotes for the week from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"It is not enough to say 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace."
"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."
Additionally, one of our homeroom classes is showing the film Hidden Figures and has brief discussions as time goes on.  Eighth Grade English is also analyzing and comparing inaugural poems by Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman. 
San Marino High School
San Marino SAI students are studying Black History Month trading card sets. They also read books about important and famous people for Black History Month. Students are busily creating presentations to be shared and discussed this month! Here are some examples from our assignments last year: Kobe Bryant, Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Andersen
AP Literature began the academic year with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  This is the quintessential novel on systemic racism.  Students watched a video and discussed the Tulsa Race Massacre as part of the unit. Students in English 7-8, also studied "Cross", and "I, Too, Sing America" by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.
AP Language students are conducting student-led research and activities celebrating the accomplishments of the Harlem Renaissance artists, writers, and musicians, as well as the history leading to the HR.  
Sophomore students are actively engaged in World Poetry from a variety of voices. Earlier this quarter they conducted student-led research and presentations about genocide around the world, including genocides of black people (Rwanda, Nigeria, etc.) around the world. Students will also be reading a novel about South Africa and apartheid in the fourth quarter. Much of the semester focuses on the Black Struggle worldwide.  
In AP Government, students have been working on their Civic Action Projects. In an effort to provide students with a better sense of what it means to engage in 'civic action' and to celebrate Black History Month, students are shown three TED-Ed Lessons as follows:
In an APUSH course, the students will be given an opportunity to read:

Students will also review the Ida B. Wells TED-Ed Lesson. Late last year, they watched the video on Harriet Tubman and in March they will have an opportunity to watch the video on Baynard Rustin.

In both classes, the teacher will begin the period on Friday, by providing the students with a chance to read:

  • 9 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in 2022
AP Government students will also be given an opportunity to read the following:

In Honors Calculus, it has been a tradition that students review Remember the Titans during Yosemite week. There is a teacher-led discussion about desegregation and the importance of self-awareness related to first impressions. Students are taught to get to know others before judging them. The teacher then engages students in an activity, where they need to talk to different people in the class for 5 minutes. The next day students are paired in sets of two people that don't usually talk to each other and should get along. The following day, students play a modified version of the newlywed game to see how much they learned about each other. Students are randomly paired together that used to be good friends, but are now in other groups, and reconnected.
As with many subjects, approaches to teaching Black history have evolved and changed over the years. More recently, high-profile events like the murder of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols have forced society to examine systemic racism and inequality more closely in the United States as the teaching of Black history has become more contextual. Here are some resources from the Center for Racial Justice in Education that you can use at home to engage your family in celebrating and learning more about Black History Month:

The aforementioned learning experiences are just a few examples of what our educators are sharing with our students this month. These lessons aid in deepening our students' understanding of Black history and provide important lessons in Civil Rights. Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to your child’s principal.


Linda de la Torre, Ed.D.

Special thanks to Principal Kurtenbach, Principal Topalian, Principal Caldwell, and Principal McAlpine for their contributions to this communique.