August 18, 2016

Separate But Excellent: History Of Crispus Attucks High School To Come To Life For Kids

Students sit at their desks at Crispus Attucks High School in 1948 and face the front of the classroom where the teacher is pointing at a map. - Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Students sit at their desks at Crispus Attucks High School in 1948 and face the front of the classroom where the teacher is pointing at a map.

Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society

A group of education leaders are bringing the exceptional history of the city’s first all black high school back to Indianapolis classrooms this fall.

A new curriculum guide designed to accompany the new documentary about the legendary Crispus Attucks High School aims to bring to life the story of the school that was opened by Indianapolis Public Schools in 1927.

Attucks: The School That Opened a City premiered tonight at the Madame Walker Theatre. Only a few tickets remain for a special matinee screening on 2 p.m. Friday, August 19.

When the district first opened Crispus Attucks, it removed black students from the integrated schools where they had studied alongside white teens for decades.

But instead of becoming an enclave of unequal resources and inadequate education, the high school northwest of the city’s downtown thrived in spite of the the oppressive forces that created it. Many of the black teachers at the school had advanced degrees, and its graduates went on to excel in fields such as medicine, politics and education.

Now a group of education leaders have created a guide to help teachers use the remarkable story of Attucks as a jumping off point for students to learn about the historical context surrounding the school — from school segregation to the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural south to the midwest.

Co-author Khaula Murtadha, who leads community engagement for Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, said that it’s essential for Indianapolis students to understand the history of Crispus Attucks.

“This is a critical moment in time historically,” she said. “We are still facing so many of the same issues that the documentary reflects. … It can really offer the opportunity to see that these things are persistent ailments within our society.”

The curriculum guide is designed to accompany a documentary about Attucks produced by filmmaker Ted Green and WFYI Public Media. The guide, which is expected to be available online in August, was authored by staff from WFYI, Butler University, IUPUI and Indianapolis Public Schools.

It is meant to be used alongside the documentary for students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Instead of using prescriptive tools like lesson plans or pacing guides, it is an overview that offers questions for students to investigate, connects the material to the Indiana state standards and links to other books and material that teachers can use to supplement the documentary.

The idea is for the guide to be flexible, so teachers can choose what area they would like to focus on with students. The authors plan to run professional development session in collaboration with school districts and nonprofits to help teachers plan for using the guide.

“We want kids to follow their questions,” said Susan Adams, a Butler professor on the team that wrote the guide. “They might want to reenact a debate or a school board meeting. They might want to do some interviews and put together their own documentary.”

The guide touches on decades of Indiana history and prompts questions about civil rights. Students can analyze how groups like the Klu Klux Klan intensified racial tension in post-World War II Indianapolis or learn details about the school such as the accomplishments of Attucks teachers.

But for teachers to address this history fully, they must first spend time on self-reflection, said Murtadha.

“It calls for some internal work,” Murtadha said. She added, teachers must ask themselves, “What do I really stand for? What values and principles do I believe in?”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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