October 1, 2022

Poetry Reading Highlights Benefits of Jefferson County Schools Program Bringing Black Men Back into the Classroom | News, Sports, Jobs

Richard Cooper, of Charlottesville, Va., reads a poem by Reginald Dwayne Betts at Shepherd University’s Shipley Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Tanya Dallas Lewis, cultural diversity and staff development coordinator for Jefferson County Schools, has already noticed a difference, following a program she has championed for the past two years in classrooms fourth grade in the local school system.

As Lewis noted, during a lecture and poetry reading for the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University’s Shipley Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon, all students involved in the Black Men Read program reported a positive response to having a black male come into their classrooms. and read a novel by Rita Williams Garcia about a black boy their age, “Clayton Byrd goes underground.”

“It was adopted, overall,” said Lewis. “We have had positive feedback from our community, from our superintendent – ​​she was all for it the moment she found out, as well as from students, teachers and of course our brave, smart and amazing black readers.

CATF Artistic Director Producer Peggy McKowen, explaining some of the involvement of CATF and Shepherd University Contemporary Theater Studies in helping the program thrive, discussed the responses students gave about the book , afterwards.

“Spring is when we do the test model of that, and we only did that for three weeks. [spans of time]. We start in full development in the fall, and we will do all year and the year after”, McKowen said. “We did surveys of fourth graders, and one of the questions we asked was, ‘How do you feel similar and/or different from Clayton? who is the little boy in the story. In all of these investigations, there was never any mention of this little boy being of a different race, or different from them in any way, culturally. I think it’s very telling, in how the students react to this experience, in how they kind of learn to be a community.

JR Fountain, who participates in the Black Men Read program, reads a poem by Reginald Dwayne Betts at Shipley Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

The event lecture was given by Lewis, regarding Black Men Read and the local and national outcome of school desegregation. Lewis explained how when schools were desegregated, following the landmark Brown v. Supreme Court Board of Education banning segregation in schools in 1954, black schools were often closed, their black students being forced to attend schools without black administrators or teachers, as the white community generally opposed teachers and black administrators involved in the education of their children. The loss of black mentors involved in the education of the majority of black students, which has continued to this day for the most part, has resulted in a noticeable decline in the academic performance of the black student population throughout the public school system. . Lewis also noted that non-black educators don’t understand the nuances of black culture, which leads educators to misunderstand and penalize the behavior of their black students, further damaging black students’ ability to thrive. in the American public school system.

“What in the American classroom speaks to the heart of a little black boy? What speaks of its purpose? What shows him who he is? What shows him his abilities – from history to mathematics to astronomy – and the role that people like him played in it? » said Lewis.

“When perception is unchallenged, it becomes reality. And, therefore, all ‘groups of people in that category’ are like that, and so on. That’s why I came up with the Black Men program Read – I wanted to be a little sneaky and have this ulterior motive of creating a school-to-teacher pipeline for boys of color. said Lewis. “A lot of the miscommunication and cross-cultural conflict we have with each other is due to the lack of shared experience with each other!”

Lewis’ program appears to have the potential to make a positive difference in how all students view race, based on the results of his survey, as well as the positive impression that black readers involved in the program shared. with her. Three of his program’s readers – Monroe Burger, Richard Cooper and JR Fountain – read some of the works of contemporary black American poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, before answering questions about their classroom experience.

“I got involved in this through the church. It was Cheryl Roberts, she had asked me one Sunday if I would be interested in participating, and I said ‘Yes!’ Fountain said, mentioning that he saw how the program even seemed to benefit the all-white classrooms he read in. “It’s very good and I would like to continue to participate in it.”

Black Men Read participant Monroe Burger explains her experience with the public school system at Shipley Recital Hall on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

Monroe Burger, 80, said he was one of the exceptions to the rule, due to the large black population where he grew up.

“I was raised in West Virginia in McDowell County. I had all black teachers, and when I went to community college, I had all black teachers,” says Burger. “You get a little nervous doing things like that (public reading). But I’m getting better, I think!

Black Men Read is funded by The Rural Arts Collaborative, which is supported by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Fayette County Cultural Trust.

The event was sponsored by the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Marion Park Lewis Foundation, inspired by CATF’s two current plays, “White List” and “The Mad Negro’s House.”

Jefferson County Schools Cultural Diversity and Staff Development Coordinator Tanya Dallas Lewis speaks about the reading program Saturday afternoon at Shepherd University’s Shipley Recital Hall. Tabitha Johnston