Some Virginia school districts to debut new African American history course

High school students in 16 Virginia school divisions will have the option to take  an elective course this school year with a focus on African American history, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday.

In Northern Virginia, the new course will be offered in Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

“Black history is American history, but for too long, the story we have told was insufficient and inadequate,” Northam said in a news release. “The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history, and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.”

The full-credit course surveys African American history from precolonial Africa through the present day. It introduces students to concepts in African American history, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction and the civil rights era.

Students will also learn about African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and America.

The course aims to challenge students to explore primary and secondary sources documenting the African American experience, according to the news release.

The 16 school divisions offering the course this year include:

  • Alleghany County
  • Amherst County
  • Arlington County
  • Carroll County
  • Charlottesville
  • Chesterfield County
  • Covington
  • Franklin County
  • Henrico County
  • Henry County
  • Loudoun County
  • Norfolk
  • Portsmouth
  • Prince William County
  • Suffolk
  • Winchester

The course includes a capstone project requiring students to conduct independent research on a question or problem of their choosing and to demonstrate a deeper understanding of African American history.

“We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when they fully understand both the oppression experienced by African Americans and their significant contributions to STEM, the arts, education, law, and advocacy,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “As a history teacher, I know that this course is long overdue and is a first step toward telling a more inclusive story about the past and how it has shaped the present.”

Development of the course comes after Northam last year directed the Virginia Department of Education to collaborate with Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media, and committees of history teachers, historians, and history professors to develop a new African American history course for high school students.

Members of Northam’s Commission on African-American History Education in the Commonwealth provided comments and guidance during the development process of the course, according to the release.

Commission members from Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth University assisted with reviewing the proposed content.

The teachers presenting the course will receive professional development and support throughout the year, according to the release.

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