February marks the celebration of Black History Month in the United States, and, this year, Blair community members are commemorating the event during the week of February 21 by participating in a wide range of student-crafted and student-led seminars. The seminars are designed to provide students with experiences that acknowledge the richness and importance of stories of being Black in America—the struggles as well as the successes, resilience and joy—in order to deepen community understanding of our nation’s history.
Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson, history teacher Hannah Higgin, PhD, and Director of Counseling Ally Thomas, each of whom serves on Blair’s Inclusivity Committee, are coordinating the Black History Month seminars. The three faculty members co-taught a J-term course on creating Black History Month seminars and continued to work with students into the first weeks of February to help them develop their topics and hone their facilitation skills. With titles ranging from “A Journey Up ‘The Hill We Climb’ by Amanda Gorman” to “When Frederick Douglass Was Wrong,” each of the 25 seminars on offer will provide participants with a small-group, discussion-based experience.
Dr. Higgin “couldn’t say enough good things” about teaming up with Mrs. Ryerson and Mrs. Thomas to launch Blair’s new Black History Month programming. “Andee and I have worked on MLK Seminars together for a number of years, and her energy and zeal for coordinating students, and my expertise on race and American identity from a historical perspective—the topic of my doctoral work and much of my classroom work—always served us well,” she said. “Having Ally in the mix this year has been a boon, not least because of her training in diversity, equity and inclusion from a social emotional learning standpoint. All of us are passionate about empowering students, elevating their voices, and fostering curiosity and learning around social justice. The subject is central for each of us in our own lives.”
Students Teaching Students
The coordinators agree that it is important to celebrate Black History Month at Blair through student-led seminars. Mrs. Ryerson, who frequently organizes student programming on campus, appreciates this format because it gives students the opportunity to learn from one another and helps ensure that the topics are interesting to teens. “As adults, we may think we know what will interest our kids, but no one knows that better than their friends and peers,” she said. “Having students lead the program affirms among peers the importance of celebrating Black history and gives our students valuable experience facilitating conversations that can sometimes be challenging.”
“Peer-to-peer education can be so powerful,” agreed Mrs. Thomas, whose background in counseling and clinical social work have informed her passion and approach to this year’s Black History Month seminars. “We're fortunate that we have so many students who value Black experiences and contributions and want to share their knowledge with their peers and to simultaneously learn from their peers. These seminars aren't meant to be lectures; they're intentionally designed by our students to be interactive spaces where they can really learn together.”
“Teachers know preparing to teach a subject is a particularly effective and intensive mode of learning, and that’s the case for our student leaders, too,” Dr. Higgin observed. “Their learning about the topics they have chosen to present gets thrown into overdrive as they think through the needs and questions of their audiences. There’s also a power in students seeing their peers’ passion for the subject rather than hearing from a teacher. They already hear from us in ‘teaching mode’ six days a week!”
Deepening Knowledge of Black History & Campus Connections
As students participate in their two chosen Black History Month seminars next week, Mrs. Ryerson hopes they will gain a greater awareness of the depth and joy of Black history in the United States, as well as a greater appreciation for their peers and their perspectives. “Students may also come away with more knowledge about topics they’ve never explored, interest in something new or an appreciation for how much information is out there if they just take the time to look for it,” she said. In addition, she hopes that the seminars provide increased connection among peers, especially since they will take place just after students return to campus for the spring semester.
Increased connection among students is important to Mrs. Thomas, as well. “I hope they walk away from this experience feeling more connected and really valuing the diversity and humanity of all,” she said, adding, “I want our students to know that their voices are powerful.”
Blair Academy is proud to recognize two of the School’s most iconic former coaches and two undefeated, untied teams in the Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2021. This year’s inductees include former field hockey, girls’ basketball and softball coach Jan Hutchinson and former wrestling coach Tom Hutchinson, as well as the 1954-1955 football team and the 1987-1988 softball team.
U.S. Army veteran and political activist Rob Smith will join the Society of Skeptics on March 9 to discuss the use of voice in the fight for freedom.