May 18, 2022

Indianapolis principal brings home lessons from Alabama civil rights landmarks tour

Newcomers Program principal Arturo Rodriguez tours the the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. - Submitted photo

Newcomers Program principal Arturo Rodriguez tours the the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Submitted photo

An Indianapolis Public Schools district principal wants to use his recent tour of Alabama sites important to the civil rights movement to improve students’ educational experiences.  

Arturo Rodriguez is principal of the Newcomers Program, an IPS’ program that serves sixth through ninth grade English language learners who are new to Indianapolis. He was a recipient of the 2022 Indiana Remembrance Coalition Scholarship, which allowed him to travel to Alabama with members of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church last month.

Before the 10-hour bus ride to Montgomery, Rodriguez had only read about and watched documentaries on some of the pivotal moments in civil rights history. Visiting these sites with about 30 other people gave him a better understanding of how to teach the events of that time period to students. 

The tour stopped at locations such as the National Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Brown Chapel AME Church and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where state police attacked civil rights marchers on what’s now called “Bloody Sunday.”

“One of the most powerful moments was really crossing that bridge together with these people that I'd never known,” Rodriguez said. “It was really about honoring the past.”

IPS’ student population, excluding innovation charter schools, was 40 percent Black and nearly 32 percent Hispanic last school year. 

In response to social justice protests in Indianapolis and across the country, in June 2020 the IPS Board of Commissioners approved a racial equity policy to reduce racism and biases in schools, and passed a Black Lives Matter resolution. But Rodriguez said some of the sites that have become known as cornerstones of the civil rights movement aren’t talked about enough in students’ history books. 

“Particularly for African Americans, when they speak about these events, it's like one [or] two page[s] in a big history book of 500 pages,” Rodriguez said. “And I think especially in IPS where most of the students are Black and Brown, we need to be more culturally responsive to teaching this to them, and teaching it to all kids.”

Now some of the members from the trip — some of whom are former educators — want to speak to IPS’ curriculum department to understand how the district can best adapt their experiences to support student learning. Rodriguez believes the experience will aid the district when selecting social studies textbooks and curriculum resources, and hopes to take a group of IPS students to visit Alabama. 

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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