Layafette‘s Ryan Elementary presents learning night on slave trade

If you go

What: Ryan Elementary‘s “A Walk Through Time”

When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Ryan Elementary, 1405 Centaur Village Drive, Lafayette

Fifth-graders at Lafayette‘s Ryan Elementary are ready to teach the community about both the richness of African culture and the horrors of slavery and its continued impacts.

Thursday, they‘re presenting the school‘s third annual “A Walk Through Time” learning night that‘s the culmination of a unit on the slave trade.

“A lot of people are kind of nervous to talk about it because it was a dark time,” said fifth-grader Ben Edwards.”We can help teach others about it. People are still discriminated against. People are still enslaved today.”

The curriculum was created through the , a collaboration between Impact on Education and the Boulder Valley School District.

Along with Ryan, the curriculum this year is being taught at Broomfield‘s Aspen Creek K-8, where it‘s integrated into the seventh-grade social studies curriculum, and at Boulder High, where it‘s an elective.

The goal is to more comprehensively cover an area of history typically relegated to a chapter in a textbook or a couple of days of classroom instruction — and in turn give students the tools to address current racial injustice.

“It‘s important for us to provide our students a class where they can critically think about their history and how sometimes our history repeats itself,” said Boulder High Principal James Hill.

At Ryan, teacher Molly Peterson was part of the original planning group and first piloted the curriculum with her class three years ago.

Now, the lessons are taught to all 78 fifth-graders, covering the culture of West Africa, the slave ships travelling through the middle passage and their colonial America destination.

“We want to open up the dialogue about this time in history and not sugarcoat it,” Peterson said. “We have to address it head on.”

To learn about the culture, students made African masks and then participated in a craft week, with their work displayed at today‘s event.

Groups of students this week focused on one craft: learning to make sweetgrass baskets, kente cloths, story quilts or shekere instruments; painting backdrops in a West African style; or learning African dance or drumming.

Fifth-grader Liam Spencer learned to make baskets, saying he thought it would be a skill he could teach his artistic family.

The learning night, he added, is an opportunity “to teach other people about what their beautiful culture was before they became slaves. They should learn about the slave trade and that having slaves is wrong.”

Added classmate Charlie Meloche, who learned to weave Kente cloths, “It shows they had a thriving culture of their own before we forced our culture on them. They had something very special.”

Students also wrote a narrative from the perspective of someone who was enslaved or created a research project on slavery.

Along with African culture and slavery, lessons cover Jim Crow laws, modern human trafficking and high incarceration rates for African Americans.

“They start to understand where the racism in our country comes from,” Peterson said. “I‘m so glad that we‘re teaching this and talking about something that‘s so hard.”

Fifth-grader Brynn Moriarty said the slave trade was a difficult topic, but also interesting and important.

“We learned how the past history still affects everyday lives,” she said.


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