June 19, 2021, marks the 155th annual commemoration of Juneteenth, which marks, celebrates, and underscores the abolishment of slavery in the United States. While this commemorative moment occurs after graduation and the conclusion of the school year, our teachers have built necessary spaces for students to celebrate, discuss, and build upon Juneteenth.
LaShawnae Smith, the African American Achievement and Equity lead teacher at Ánimo James B. Taylor Charter Middle School, created a space for students to discuss and learn about themselves and their community. Smith advises Ánimo James B. Taylor’s Black Student Union Advisory course, where she allots daily class time to assist students with defining goals and monitoring their classroom performance. The most critical part of this Advisory course, Smith said, is giving students an opportunity to explore lessons and topics that are relevant to the African American community. For Juneteenth, Smith has created a structured lesson with space for discussion to help students learn and appreciate the commemoration.
“I’m using this moment to educate our students about the history behind Juneteenth, and tell them how, where, and when they can celebrate it,” Smith said. Smith shared her personal experience celebrating Juneteenth, illustrating how nearby sections of the city, including Leimert Park Plaza and the Crenshaw community, often become vibrant community hubs throughout the commemoration. “This is a place where I can give them insight on how uplifting, fun, and motivating this holiday can be. It circulates around our existence and independence.”
Carving a Space for Discussion
When our campuses partially reopened in April, it brought forth new opportunities for connection. Smith augmented her Black Student Union Advisory course with Ánimo James B. Taylor’s afternoon support model, where students could come to campus to receive additional assistance with school assignments and goal setting. This in-person experience has allowed Smith to genuinely connect with her students face-to-face, while she helped them find new strategies to excel in their classes.
“I have a few students who come to me after school who take the time to share their experiences, and it has been very eye opening for me. I feel like it's developing a sense of camaraderie amongst each other—a small group of students,” Smith said. “Moments like these allow students to become more engaged in the class and the school community,” she added.
Imagining a More Perfect Union
Smith has also used this time to reimagine how impactful her Black Student Union Advisory course can be for her students. This fall, she plans to continue academic support, but also include more leadership elements. “I am excited to give my Black Student Union students leadership positions. I want them to feel like they can leave something, and that younger students can choose who their leaders will be. I think that would be fun like having a campaign throughout school,” Smith said.
At Green Dot Public Schools, we build spaces for all students to express themselves. That’s why we have invested resources into our African American Achievement and Equity Program, our annual Legacy Conference, and our partnership with Overcoming Racism. These opportunities equip our educators, school leaders, and students, with the tools necessary to build more diverse and inclusive learning environments. We look forward to evolving, maintaining, and expanding access to more programs across all of our schools to help more students achieve success in college, leadership, and life.