Windsor Public Schools Reading Program Celebrates Black Excellence

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Bonnie Fineman, director of arts and humanities, says students of color make up 70 percent of the district and it’s important that they feel represented in classrooms.

WINDSOR, Conn. – June 16 is just days away, which means you can expect to see big celebrations throughout the weekend.

While some may be jubilant, like generations past, others are quieter – but still have the same impact of commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the United States.

Windsor Public Schools has announced that their theme for 2021 Summer Reading is Juneteenth!

District officials said it was a partnership with the Windsor Public Library and the Windsor Library Association.

During the program, students will explore books that celebrate black excellence and black achievement.

“All students can benefit from learning about black history and Juneteenth,” said Bonnie Fineman, WPS director for arts and humanities. “Black history is not just for people of color. Black history is everyone’s history.

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According to Fineman, students of color make up about 70 percent of Windsor’s public school district.

She said it’s important that students feel represented in classrooms, when it comes to reading and writing.

“It is my responsibility to make sure that we include all of our children, that we make all of our children feel good, supported and represented,” she added. “We must ensure that education evolves.

The goal of the program is to do just that.

Historians confirm that many educators today know little about the African-American experience. However, those at the John F. Kennedy School have made it a priority to explore.

Principal Autumn Baltimore said students receive an equitable education because the school is an expression of different cultures, people and genders every day.

“The fact that we have ninth graders, ninth graders and ninth graders saying ‘Hey, I’d like to see myself in a book’, no matter what I am, is really powerful and it’s our job to make sure that we provide those resources so that they’re able to be agents of change for what they’re going to learn,” Baltimore said. “When a student wants to learn and they’re engaged, it’s about practices very effective.”

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Mercedes Jones, a first-grade teacher in a 4th-grade class, said while teaching black history is challenging and her favorite subject, she only learned about the significance of Juneteenth in college. .

“Representation is just super important. It’s important for my students to know that people like them have had such an impact in history,” she said.

Fineman also noted that during his elementary school years, subjects like Juneteenth were excluded from classes.

“I don’t remember reading a single book by an author of color,” she said, adding that it was only by enrolling in undergraduate black literature classes that any one world, as she explained, was revealed to Fineman.

Helen Nguyen, also a 4th grade teacher, said these subjects needed to be taught early because some students would not get that higher education experience.

“We need in public schools – especially in elementary and middle school – to talk about these things so that they are informed, know where they come from and the history that keeps repeating itself,” said she declared. “So when things happen in the present, they know and connect to the story that followed.”

Nguyen added that there can be a lot of pressure to cram in so much information, but her goal is to make sure there are no gaps in her lesson planning.

The school district’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion have been paramount to students who don’t necessarily understand its meaning.

Jones said he was once asked why their class was reading a book with black people when it wasn’t February or Black History Month.

“It was shocking to me that they felt like there was a certain month or a certain time when we could talk about groups of people,” she said.

According to the Baltimore principal, students not only need to know about Juneteenth, but they want it. And the CM1 students told us so themselves.

“Even today, a lot of black people are hurt because white people don’t think they belong,” Elijah said. “I think everyone should celebrate this holiday to congratulate black people for being who they are.”

“I didn’t find out that some slaves weren’t free until two years after it was announced, so that upset me,” she said. “Every culture is different and we should get to know each other.”

She added that the reason being culturally aware is important is not to offend your peers.

Her example: “If you approach someone with a hijab and take it off, they will feel offended and it will be very rude.”

“June 16 is the day slaves were set free and it’s really important because no one should ever have to go through what they’ve been through their whole life,” Macy said.

Macy added that it makes her happy to see characters and people throughout history who look like her.

“I love seeing what they’ve been through and what I might be going through when I’m older,” she said. “I will know how to do it.”

RELATED: New mural in West Hartford honors MLK and other civic leaders

JFK literacy coach Marguerite Smith said the city’s initiative is crucial for the future.

Although generations of students haven’t heard about Juneteenth and many other important points in black history in the classroom, Smith said they are now raising kinder, gentler and more capable students who learn to accept everyone for who they are.

In addition to the summer reading program, the district reinforced its commitment to showcasing Black excellence and achievement with a “Celebrate Juneteenth” logo designed by Windsor High School junior DeAndre Satterwhite.

The logo uses the colors of African flags, a heart in the center with two hands to show that we can lift each other up. It is featured on a billboard along I-91.

To kick off its 2021 Juneteenth-inspired summer reading program, Windsor Public School families are invited to celebrate Juneteenth at the Wilson Branch Library on June 19.

The community will enjoy readings aloud, African dance and drum performances, giveaways and more.

Plus, kicking off a movie night will be June 25 at the Main Branch Library, where families will watch a movie on the green and students can receive free summer reading books.

For more information on the summer reading program and activities, click here.

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