Saddle River Day Celebrates Black History Month

Saddle River Day Celebrates Black History Month
Beth Meleski

The author Michael Crichton once said, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Educating and reminding Saddle River Day School students about all the other leaves on their tree is exactly the intention of February’s Black History Month programming, according to English Department Chair Jennifer Maylath, this year’s organizer of Black History Month activities for the Upper and Middle Schools. 
As with all the best learning, Black History Month lessons have been integrated into the lesson plans of each class. This cross-divisional cooperation supports the broader goal of the faculty to embed the important teachings, advancements and achievements of Black and multiracial thinkers and creators into the curriculum all year long. Students at Saddle River Day School are encouraged to pursue knowledge bravely and doggedly, to think critically and deeply, and to regularly examine their worldview in light of each new idea that is presented to them. 
With this in mind, History students in the middle school will learn about a new Black historical figure each day and upper school history students will become familiar with the antebellum South, the abolitionist movement, post-Civil War reconstruction and the Jim Crow South, and the Great Migration, along with previously underrepresented events like the Tulsa Massacre and the Haitian Revolution. In English classes, middle school students will learn about the artists and creators from the Harlem Renaissance period and upper school students will read and study poetry and essays written by Black and multiracial writers and poets, and use those as exemplars for their own writing. In math and science classes, Middle and Upper school students learn about the contributions of Black, multiracial and African American scientists and thinkers, calculate the statistical probability of social injustice, and review case studies for forensic evidence in the criminal justice system.
During the month of February, morning meetings and assemblies will also feature spoken word pieces, commencement speeches, and a short history of the origins of blues, jazz and rock music as told through the compositions and performances of iconic Black artists and musicians, and as explained and performed by the SRDS bands and music director, Erick Storckman. Each of these presentations will offer students the opportunity for new learning about the experience of their fellow humans. Extended advisory periods after these presentations will give students the space for further discussion and processing of new ideas and concepts while asking the question, “Now that we have this information, what are we going to do with it?”
In the Lower School, this question can be answered through Love and Kindness week. Following the example of prominent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who taught that unconditional love was the most transformative force in the universe, students are encouraged, through age-appropriate activities and discussions, to explore ways to spread kindness and to make their classrooms safe, warm, and welcoming to each of their classmates.

Here at Saddle River Day School, we refer to ourselves as a community rather than as a school. Our programming for Black History Month furthers the SRDS mission to produce graduates who have been well prepared to lead by example and who recognize their role as part of a larger, integral whole. In other words, we work to ensure that our students and graduates recognize the tree they are a part of, and celebrate the role of each of their fellow leaves.