Semester-long class highlights African American history, contributions

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Amy Madsen talks with seniors Brittany Monique Ford, Heidi Bradley, Maranda Dawson and Amber Kidd about W.E.B. Du Bois during her African American History class at George Rogers Clark High School (Clark County). Photo by Amy Wallot, April 11, 2013
Amy Madsen talks with seniors Brittany Monique Ford, Heidi Bradley, Maranda Dawson and Amber Kidd about W.E.B. Du Bois during her African American History class at George Rogers Clark High School (Clark County). Photo by Amy Wallot, April 11, 2013

By Susan Riddell
susan.riddell@education.ky.gov

When Amy Madsen was a student at the University of Kentucky, she took a class on black history taught by associate professor Fon Gordon.

“It proved to be one of my favorite classes,” said Madsen, who now teaches history at George Rogers Clark High School (Clark County). “Dr. Gordon was so amazing, and she made me see how fascinating African American history is.

“I knew that I wanted to teach a class like that someday.”

Years later, Madsen is getting her wish.

Madsen began teaching African American History in January. The semester-long class goes beyond the traditional unit studies of black history that tend to concentrate on the slavery era. Madsen’s class included units on the colonial period, the Civil Rights movement and a heavy emphasis on the modern era.

“There’s just so much more out there for students to learn,” Madsen said.

Charles Hall, social studies consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education, said black history should be taught throughout U.S. History and not be taught solely as an individual unit in U.S. History.

That’s exactly what Madsen has tried to do, she said.

“I feel like there’s a great amount of content in this class,” she said. “It could easily be a year-long class.”

Madsen, who is working on making her black history class a dual-credit class, said her support from school administrators has been wonderful as she’s worked to get the class going.

She also has received great buy-in from both black and white students, too. There are more than 30 students in her class, many of whom are upperclassmen. One pleasant surprise, Madsen said, was how some of her students have responded emotionally to the history lessons.

“I knew some students would get emotional when talking about slavery, and they have,” Madsen said. “But that’s led to a real desire to learn more and more, so we’ve been able to go deeper in discussions about why it happened, and why it’s such an important part of history for everyone.

“Also, I’ve had some guest speakers in here, and they’ve been so captivating that my students were quiet and hungry to learn. You could hear a pin drop sometimes,” Madsen added.

Madsen said a few students have shown remarkable academic improvements since the class started back in January. She credits the subject matter and students being exposed to information they previously haven’t been offered.

“I have a few students who never spoke up in class, and now they are regular participants,” she said. “It’s been really enjoyable to watch them grow.”

Writing prompts have focused on short essays. A recent one had students write about a time they were denied something. She said several students wrote about being denied a cellphone or being allowed to go somewhere unless their grades improved. Others wrote about not making an athletic team or being forced to move to a different city.

“The responses were very open and honest,” Madsen said.

Her students also participate in community service projects. They organized a fish fry with proceeds going to charity, and decorated classroom doors during Black History Month. They also recently visited elementary schools to lead pep rallies and share inspirational raps as younger students prepared for K-PREP testing.

Madsen said students learned a lot from several novels like The Color of Water, Up from Slavery, The Souls of Black Folk and The Mis-Education of the Negro and watched films related to black history. Madsen also has the students read columns by Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Merlene Davis.

“My African American History course does encompass many themes and concepts from the ACT Course Standards provided by QualityCore,” Madsen said. “These are the standards tested on the U.S. History end-of-course exams.

“There is so much more out there about African American history for students to learn,” Madsen added. “I’m barely scratching the surface of what students should be exposed to in history..”

MORE INFO …
Amy Madsen, amy.madsen@clark.kyschools.us, (859) 744-6111

 

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