Middle and Lower Schools Celebrate Black History Month with Cross-Divisional Study of HBCUs

Middle and Lower Schools Celebrate Black History Month with Cross-Divisional Study of HBCUs

As part of the celebration of Black History Month, students in our Middle and Lower Schools embarked on a study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). With a focus on learning about these institutions and celebrating the impacts, history and contributions of HBCUs in the United States, the units also provided a unifying experience for each grade level. Students were given a variety of opportunities to engage in meaningful connections across academic disciplines, including first-person interviews with HBCU alumni/ae/x, research and artistic projects, and the construction of a website to showcase students’ work.


Why Study HBCUs?

Black history is American history and there is an important story to be told about why HBCUs were founded. HBCUs have a rich history and culture that can be captivating to even the youngest child. A survey recently done by a Key student showed that over 90% of Key students in the Upper School want to learn about HBCUs earlier than high school.


Researching the Colleges & Universities

Over the course of a few weeks, students in both Divisions conducted research on five HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Howard University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. 

Faculty members in the Lower School each selected an HBCU to present to their students while Middle School students took virtual tours of each of the five HBCUs. Students at all grade levels researched and discussed school history, location, student life, athletics, and mascots.

With the technical assistance of Casey Baum ‘18, Middle Schoolers compiled all their information and created this website to curate their research and resources. Lower Schoolers gathered their newfound knowledge into a slideshow and student presenters shared that information with the entire division as part of a virtual assembly. 


Engaging with First-Person Experiences

Pulling from within the Key community, both Divisions called on the expertise of alumni/ae/x of the five HBCUs being studied. Nearly thirty parents, along with Key alumni/ae/x and current faculty and staff members, eagerly volunteered their time to speak with the students. Through virtual meetings, students were able to actively engage in conversations and discussions about the experience of attending an HBCU, learn why the guest speakers made the choice to attend an HBCU, and hear about the impact of their college experience. Fifth grade students also had the unique opportunity to meet and speak virtually with the President of Bowie State University, Dr. Aminta H. Breaux.


Art Challenges Bring Studies to Life

At the conclusion of their studies, Lower Schoolers took on a door-decorating challenge. Classroom doors throughout the Manse and the Manse Addition featured each of the HBCUs, highlighting and displaying all of the information the students had learned over the course of their unit. Each door then served as an educational showcase for all passersby.

As part of their Visual Arts classes, Middle School students met virtually with DC/Maryland-based artist Demont ‘Peekaso’ Pinder who is well-known for his “clothing-as-art-supply” approach in creating masterpieces. As Visual Arts Department Head Andy Katz explained, “Demont invited us into his work space, while collaborating with us on our studies of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It was important for us to design an art experience that echoed the importance of these institutions while simultaneously celebrating Black excellence.” Key students were then challenged to use Demont’s unique approach to construct an HBCU logo, mascot or portrait of a graduate.


Lower School Division Head Kristen Addison noted the importance of including the study of HBCUs in the Middle and Lower School curricula, “Our students have the right to hear about Black excellence and joy and not only the far too frequent recounting of trauma and slavery. College is a connection to school. Our students hear stories about their parents' college experiences, celebrate college sports teams, and feel a part of college communities long before they are old enough to think about attending. We are not presenting this idea as an effort to prepare kids for college. We are presenting it as an aspect of relevant and current Black history.”