NEW CASTLE – Black History Month means quite a bit to the students at Serviam Academy, where a majority of the students are African-American. This year, the all-girls middle school took its annual celebration of Black History Month to a new level on Feb. 25.
Serviam presented “African Culture … Sights & Sounds,” a gallery walk saluting the month. Each of the four grades had a specific task, and the finished products were on display in the school gymnasium. There, visitors who included parents, volunteers, donors and members of the Serviam board of trustees watched and listened to the finished products.
Principal Kate Lucyk said in the past there has been a different display in each classroom, and the students would travel from room to room. That changed this year, when all of the projects were presented in the same place.
“To celebrate our girls and their history in any way that we can is very important,” Lucyk said. “You tend to remember the things that are exciting and that matter. This matters.”
Three of the grades provided the sights, the other the sound. Fifth-graders presented “Blacks in Wax,” in which the girls were figures in a wax museum. They were dressed as the people they represented, and on a table behind the girls were their tablets, which displayed biographical facts and photos of the historical figures.
Kassidy Baptiste was Marian Anderson, the 20th-century singer who was a key figure in the struggle for racial equality for black singers. Kassidy said the process of researching Anderson and dressing like her, then acting like a wax figure in a museum was “real cool.”
“It’s pretty awesome because we never did anything like this” at her former school, she said.
The seventh grade studied Kente cloth, a type of silk and cotton fabric. Trinity Peyton, who is in her second year at Nativity, said Kente cloth was originally made in Ghana and was primarily black and white. The cloths made by the girls came in all sorts of colors and patterns, each representing something different to the students. Trinity said Kente cloth traditionally was worn at graduations or on other special occasions.
Ki-Jana Hodges and her classmates in eighth grade researched African Americans who played a role in the Revolutionary War. Their teacher, Gina McKinney, said more modern history books tend to overlook their achievements. Ki-Jana wrote about Jack “Prince” Sisson, who served in the First Rhode Island Regiment and helped capture British Gen. Richard Prescott, Ki-Jana said
“People who were very important during this time, they were forgotten about in the past, and it’s good that we’re bringing them back up,” she said.
Some students also designed African masks, which Ki-Jana said represented ideas such as peace, war, sorry, pain and happiness.
“I put a whole lot of different things (on her mask). I didn’t put a mouth on mine because it’s more about action than words,” she said.
The sixth-graders provided the sounds in the form of African vocals and drums. That was perfect for them, Lucyk said. “The girls love music, so what better way to connect with them?”
The principal said the project reflected topics that are important to her students.
“Teachers had free reign to choose anything that mattered,” she said. “The math teacher, who is the seventh-grade homeroom teacher, chose Kente cloth because of the mathematical relationship between the shapes and creating the cloth. Our science and religion teacher felt very strongly about the African masks because they’re used during religious ceremonies, and being the religion teacher, it coordinated there.”
Ki-Jana liked what the project said about Serviam. “I think that says we’re a very inclusive school, and we don’t like to forget about others who do important work.”