In a fitting venue, educators and supporters gathered Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Middleton High School to celebrate state recognition for Hillsborough County Public Schools’ commitment to teaching African-American history.
The celebration marked the culmination of the three-year process to earn Exemplary Status for the Teaching of African-American History from the Florida Department of Education. State law mandates certain expectations for history classes, including African-American history, but Hillsborough County “goes well above and beyond,” said Superintendent Jeff Eakins. “It’s part of the curriculum at every grade level at every school. This ensures that everyone learns more about African and African-American history and culture.”
That means students learn about African-American contributions in science class, infuse African-inspired recipes into culinary programs, study a diverse array of literature in English class and celebrate noted mathematicians of color in math class. African-American history isn’t just for history class. And it isn’t just meant for Black History Month (February).
“This is not just about compliance,” Eakins said. “This was something that was right to do.”
Middleton High School is named for George S. Middleton. It opened in 1934 as Tampa’s first school for black students, local historian and proud Middleton graduate Fred Hearns noted in his remarks. He described how Mr. Middleton went from being a mail carrier and insurance executive to a civic leader who helped bring educator Booker T. Washington and other leaders to town. The school serves as Mr. Middleton’s legacy to the community.
“We love our school, we love our alumni and we love the legacy that has been laid for us,” Principal Kim Moore said in her opening remarks. She pointed to a growing area in the Media Center dedicated to Middleton alumni history, an area that gained some new artifacts on Wednesday courtesy of various supporters of the school.
Former state Sen. James Hargrett Jr. is a Middleton graduate: “I owe just about everything I ever accomplished to the training I get here at Middleton.” In his remarks, he quoted the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, who signed the law establishing an exemplary status designation. “Knowledge,” he said, “is the antidote to the poison of prejudice.”
Hargrett said while he learned plenty of things at Middleton before he graduated, African-American history wasn’t among them.
Dennis Holt, supervisor of secondary social studies education, said pursuing the distinction came down to one word: Inclusiveness.
“This is an opportunity to teach all kids about important contributions of our community,” Holt said. “There’s a huge body of research that shows when kids learn about people like themselves, they learn more.”
In October 2014, the School Board approved the district’s pursuit of obtaining Exemplary Status, as awarded by the Florida Department of Education’s Commissioner of Education African-American History Task Force. The initiative was first introduced by the Hillsborough County NAACP and their members have been important partners through the entire process.
The process has included training of more than 60 teachers in the development of African and African-American Studies curriculum and resources, as well as training for district staff and all elementary, middle and high school principals. Additionally, more than 1,000 middle and high school social studies teachers have participated in workshops related to African-American Studies.
Dr. Patrick Coggins, from Stetson University, has been a consultant with the district during the project. In July of 2016, Dr. Coggins trained more than 300 representatives from all schools in the district to serve as African and African-American Studies liaisons for their sites.
To watch the press conference, click here.
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