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New African American history course available

Area high schools now have the option to offer an African American history course to students.

Thursday, Aug. 27, the Office of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the creation of a new high school-level elective course some schools will begin offering this academic year.

In Aug. 24 of last year, Northam directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to collaborate with Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media and committees consisting of history teachers, professors and historians to develop the new course.

Some school divisions will present the course this fall, while others will do so in the spring.

Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS) Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said school officials are excited about the course and will perhaps offer it in the 2021-2022 school year, as all PECPS courses for 2020-2021 were determined in December 2019 and January 2020 and course elections were completed by March.

“We always look for opportunities to expand course selections that broaden our students’ perspectives and knowledge-base,” Johnson added.

Chip Jones, superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools, said the system’s course offerings for this year were set in the fall of 2019 but said Cumberland will consider offering the course for the 2021-2022 school year.

According to the release, the full-credit course, now complete, surveys African American history from precolonial Africa through today, leading students through key concepts in African American history, from early beginnings in Africa through the transatlantic slave trade, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era and present day.

“Black history is American history, but for too long, the story we have told was insufficient and inadequate,” Northam said in the release. “The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.”

According to the release, by the end of the course students will be able to: identify and understand the African origins and developments of the Black experience in North America; evaluate how African Americans have shaped, contributed, and have been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state, and local governments; evaluate and interpret the various paths of civic responsibility that led to quests for equality, justice and freedom for individuals and communities facing barriers and oppression based on race, class and gender; and analyze and understand how the institution of slavery in the United States shaped beliefs about race and the supremacy of one race over another and influenced America’s economy and politics

The course will also include a capstone project requiring independent student research.

Sixteen Virginia schools will be offering the course this academic year, including Alleghany County, Amherst County, Arlington County, Carroll County, Charlottesville, Chesterfield County, Covington, Franklin County, Henrico County, Henry County, Loudoun County, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Prince William County, Suffolk, and Winchester school divisions.

According to the release, in July, Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane notified school divisions of the opportunity to present the new course during the 2020- 2021 academic year.