OPUSD takes widespread step in recognizing Black History Month

The staff of OPUSD creates unique ways to recognize Black History Month


Atmika Iyer/Talon

Students in English teacher Leslie Miller’s second period English II CP class participate in a lesson on protests during the Civil Rights Movement.

Black History Month has long been addressed by some teachers in the Oak Park Unified School District, but, according to Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Jay Greenlinger, it is time to be more inclusive and “purposeful.” 

Methods include having teachers read the insightful article “Teaching Tolerance” by Coshandra Dillard and providing teachers with a slideshow covering important figures in the African-American community. This step is one of the first organized efforts made by the Oak Park Unified School District to recognize Black History Month.

Greenlinger sent a district-wide email providing an organized program on how to acknowledge Black History Month.

“In an effort to provide schools that are more inclusive to all students, and to recognize the diversity of our students and staff, we would like to be more purposeful in our work this year,” Greenlinger said in an email to the staff

Teachers have been provided with a slide show highlighting individuals and achievements made in the African American community to cover “contributions outside the Civil Rights movement,” according to Greenlinger. Covering this curriculum is optional for teachers.

The slideshow provides a platform for teachers to use that will minimize time taken from their traditional lessons.

“The district provided an amazingly comprehensive Google slideshow for classroom teachers to use for discussion; it includes summaries about our most influential and impactful African- Americans,” English teacher Leslie Miller said.

Miller has recognized the celebration in her own classroom for years by using the New York Times, Upfront magazine’s February editions to cover black history and Martin Luther King content. Miller is glad that the message of inclusivity is finally being complied together by the district in such a meaningful and thoughtful way.

“I am super happy and really excited that the district is taking steps in the direction of a more concerted, meaningful, thoughtful approach to Black History Month than they have in the past. It’s super important to honor our black students and our community as a whole. In order to understand what it means to be an American, you must consider the complicated relationship between blacks and whites in this country” Miller said.

Miller expressed that she will use the stellar curriculum provided in an effort to spread the importance of honoring Black History Month.

“This gives me an opportunity to really do it the honor and the justice that it deserves. I’m absolutely going to do these lessons with all five of my English classes,” Miller said.

Other staff members like English teacher Jessica Wall and ASL teacher Deanne Bray are being inclusive in their classrooms with their take on Black History Month.

“I have had a discussion in each of my classes about why we have Black History Month and show the introductory video from the slides sent out to the high school staff at large,” Wall said.

Bray took a different approach by having students learn about two communities through this project.

“My ASL III class will give a presentation on different deaf, black individuals who contributed and made achievements to the communities,” Bray said.

Hailey Jones, a junior African American student who has been in the district for seven years, talked about this being the first she’s really heard of her culture being recognized [in the district].

“I think it’s great that the school is now recognizing Black History Month. It’s a little upsetting that it’s the first time. Although, better late than never. Especially since there are more diverse people transferring to OP. Not much, but it’s a start,” Jones said.