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Schools offer unique events for Black History Month

By Shannon Jenkins

Educators in Clayton and Henry counties have devised unique ways to present their students with valuable information for Black History Month. Both county school districts offer a variety of events targeted at students from kindergarten to 12th grade throughout the month while Clayton County's institution of higher learning appeals to college students through film.

At Clayton County Public Schools, one event has created quite a buzz at Jonesboro Middle School, which caters to sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Principal Kay Sledge said the school's Black History Bowl, which was incorporated into the school's Black History Month program in February 2000, is very popular with the students.

"They love it; are you kidding me?" she said. "It's a big thing."

The bowl, scheduled for Feb. 16, offers students a competition with a College Bowl atmosphere. Sledge said teachers select 10 students from each grade through process of elimination to compete in the bowl, which is televised throughout the campus.

To prepare for the event, students must brush up on black history by reading "101 Things Everyone Should Know About African-American History," a booklet Sledge selected for this year's event. The principal said facts from the book and materials used in prior bowls are posted along the hallways so students are constantly seeing the information.

"We can't walk anywhere without seeing the facts," she said.

Teachers then choose questions for the selected students, who face-off by grade level in hour-long competitions.

Sledge said first-, second- and third-place winners in each grade will receive money, while each student in the school will receive a magazine of famous African-Americans. Bowl participants will also receive a certificate.

"I think the bowl gives students the enthusiasm to learn about the events and people who have changed the course of our history," she said. "It's an exciting way to get students involved."

For Henry County's McDonough Elementary School, students will take a more "stiff" approach to Black History Month with their third annual wax museum on Feb. 16-17.

Erin Pringle, a fifth-grade teacher who sponsors the event, said about 70 students will participate in the project. The students prepare for the big day by researching important black figures they wish to portray, Pringle said. When the day of the wax museum arrives, those students will dress like their chosen black leaders and occupy stations around the cafeteria. Pringle said other McDonough Elementary students will then tour the "wax museum" of "frozen" figures, where they surround a particular figure in small groups. Once a button is pushed, the student unfreezes and gives a brief speech about the person he or she is portraying.

Pringle said the wax museum has become extremely popular with students.

"It's a chance for them to give a performance," she said. "It's a more creative way to present the information they gather rather than doing a book report."

Pringle said the students are allowed to portray figures both alive and dead.

"We have everything from civil rights leaders and abolitionists to politicians, entertainers, literary figures and athletes," she said. "The kids are really creative. We always get Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman, but we also have Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey and Muhammed Ali."

Stephanie Maurer, McDonough Elementary assistant principal, said the wax museum is a positive experience for the students and the staff.

"I think this unit of study is a great opportunity for students to learn more about African Americans in history," she said. "We (also) get a lot of positive feedback from our staff. When February rolls around, staff (members) ask if we're having the wax museum again."

The Black Cultural Awareness Association (BCAA) at The Clayton College & State University approached Black History Month with Hollywood in mind. The BCAA developed the "Make You Think" Film Festival to attract more awareness to black history.

"We wanted to do the film festival because we've been trying to be innovative," said Adebayo Sulaimon, BCAA president. "We thought films would be a good way to show our history."

Sulaimon, a sophomore education major, said a committee selected the movies "Bamboozled," "School Daze," "The Tuskegee Airmen" and "4 Little Girls," which all deal with issues in the black community.

"We really wanted to pack Black History Month," he said.

Sulaimon said the first film, "Bamboozled," attracted about 10 people. The BCAA has since distributed fliers around campus to draw awareness to the film festival.

"We're looking for a better turnout for the remaining three (movies)," he said. "We hope (the events) enlighten the campus about black history and bring (different) cultures on campus together."

The movies are free and open to the public. According to the film festival schedule, "School Daze" will show on Feb. 7, "The Tuskegee Airmen" on Feb. 16 and "4 Little Girls" on Feb. 23. All the movies will be shown in the Clayton State University Center, Room 272, starting at 7 p.m.