Thursday, June 20, 2024

New history course elective on African-American history: WJCC, York County not offering it this year

Civil Rights march in Washington, D.C. in 1963 (Library of Congress)
Civil Rights march in Washington, D.C. in 1963 (Library of Congress)

Gov. Ralph Northam last month announced a new African-American history course would be available as a high school elective in Virginia.

“Black history is American history, but for too long, the story we have told was insufficient and inadequate,” Northam said in a prepared statement. “The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history, and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.”

The news comes after the months of unrest and Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Students will learn history from precolonial Africa through modern-day events including the transatlantic slave trade, the Civil war and the Civil Rights movement.

There are 16 schools who are teaching an African-American high school history course for the 2020-2021 school year.

But neither the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools or the York County School Division are on the list of school divisions offering this course for the 2020-2021 school year.

So why is that?

York County School Division

Back in June, Katherine Goff, the division’s spokeswoman, said YCSD included an objective addressing cultural diversity learning opportunities in the division’s long term strategic plan.

This plan was adopted three years ago.

Teachers also undergo regular training that educates them on how to include topics of diversity and African American history in classroom discussions while still following the Standards of Learning curriculum from the Virginia Department of Education, David Reitz, director of elementary instruction, told WYDaily back in June.

Goff said if students are learning about a topic or period, then the objective is to include all sides of the history and talk about local figures, too.

Goff had said discussions for the following school year will include information about the new Virtual Virginia courses, which could potentially mean African American history would be offered to students as an elective.

As to how the division’s curriculum diversity compares to other school divisions, Goff did provide an updated comment.

Williamsburg-James City County Schools

Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC, said there are three reasons why the division is not offering the history elective course this school year.

First, the professional development offered by the Virginia Department of Education is happening in the fall. Two, most of the classes for WJCC are year-long instead of semester-long courses, which mean the division could not accommodate it.

“Once the course was announced it came long after the students picked their classes,” she added.

But the division do plan to offer the elective course for the 2021-2022 school year.

The third reason is the division is “developing content that we already integrating into our existing history courses” to make the courses “more inclusive of African-American history and studies” Cox noted.

“It’s not that we don’t want to, she said. “Timing [is] part of it and the other is we are developing content of our own that we are using in our history courses this year.”

She referred WYDaily to a previous story about the offering Black history in schools and the division’s work with the Village Initiative.

In the June 8 story, WYDaily had interviewed Steve Legawiec, coordinator for social studies at WJCC, who said the division had formed a partnership with The Village Initiative, a nonprofit organization promoting unity.

Both WJCC and The Village Initiative were working on a joint project to turn oral interviews with local African-American community members into materials for teachers to educate students.

His work with the nonprofit inspired him to expand the 5th grade U.S. geography course to include American stories of Black history, women’s history, immigration stories and to help the students find their own story.

“The state and WJCC Schools has done a pretty good job of integrating diversity in the curriculum since 2008,” he said in a June interview with WYDaily. “We’re not just studying American Indian history in the colonial era or only talking about African American history in slavery or the Civil War movement. We’re working to integrate diversity in the curriculum. I wouldn’t say we were behind but we are continuing to move forward.”

“Something that is very important to me is making sure our teachers are equipped to handle tough conversations,” he added. “A teacher might be an expert on an era but we need to remember we can’t know someone’s lived experiences.”


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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