Mary Harris has spent the majority of her life in Frederick, including her school years.

The 80-year-old attended a segregated primary school and then Lincoln High School — now Lincoln Elementary School in Frederick — the school where black high school children in the county went. It was before integration in the school system began in 1956.

Harris later became a preschool teacher. Looking back on her education, however, she said that she learned very little about her heritage or African American history through her schooling, outside of some lessons during Black History Month in February.

Even in lessons about the southern part of the country and the Civil War, which Harris is particularly interested in, stories of slavery and plantation life or black soldiers were left out, she said.

“We are important. We’ve done important things for this country,” Harris said.

Desiree Tucker, mother of a Deer Crossing Elementary School student, has never met Harris. But the two share a desire for more diversity taught in the county’s schools.

Tucker does not want that same type of education for her son or any other minority student attending Frederick County Public Schools, which led her to create an organization called Women Solve. The first goal of the organization: work on getting more lessons with diverse perspectives introduced into the curriculum.

Current curriculum

Tucker and her husband moved to Frederick two years ago from Prince George’s County. They came here because they wanted a better school system for their children, one of whom would soon be entering kindergarten.

Her husband raised concerns about their son being one of the few minority students in his new school, but Tucker brushed it off. But after a year of experiencing what she feels is a lack of diversity in her first-grader’s education, Tucker wants to make the school district aware of the issue and make sure students and staff are being taught to celebrate diversity.

Tucker hopes that by bringing more diversity and cultural awareness into the schools through education, students, parents and teachers will begin to better understand the struggles faced by minority families both today and in the past, as well as give minority students the opportunity to see themselves reflected in lessons.

“It’s hard to be indifferent or dismissive to someone when you know something about them or know their story,” Tucker said.

The curriculum would ideally include lessons on different cultures, different figures in history — preferably those of people of color — and maybe even some cultural day events.

Colleen Bernard, social studies curriculum specialist for secondary schools for FCPS, said there are no specific courses about people of color, but diversity is represented through the materials and resources used in all subjects by the school system.

“In teaching the curriculum, staff strive to incorporate various perspectives when presenting the material, including highlighting the different gender, racial, ethnic, social-economic, and other perspectives represented through the literature and lessons,” Bernard said in a statement.

Kevin Cuppett, executive director of curriculum, instruction and innovation, agreed. He said FCPS strives to make sure different voices are included in instructional material, such as with English courses.

“... making sure that our curriculum materials and the novels that we pick might have a variety of authorship, that people from diverse backgrounds are represented there and we’re not just reading material that’s, you know, Euro-centric and written by predominantly white people,” Cuppett said. “In the elementary [schools], that might manifest itself as having text in students’ hands where you see diverse kids in the pictures.”

He added, however, that sometimes it can be a challenge to find such an array.

“Sometimes we have a tough time finding material from a publisher that we think meets our equity view, and that just takes time and you have to work with it,” Cuppett said. “But more and more the publishers are kind of coming in line with the thinking of school districts.”

But Tucker wants diversity codified in the curriculum, and she hopes Women Solve will play a key role in getting it and staying on top of the school system.

The mission of Women Solve, she said, is to keep pushing for change. The group is made up of Tucker and other women, all Frederick residents. They have been working the past few months speaking with FCPS staff and other local organizations such as the Frederick County Branch of the NAACP to get the ball rolling.

Tucker said she wants to make sure that “we’re not sitting around another two, 10 years, 25 years to get this done. ... I want to see this done by next school term.”

Board of Education members Jay Mason and Michael Bunitsky agree that it should be looked at and more diversity should be considered, but they are unsure that it could be implemented by the 2020-21 school year. Tucker has brought her concerns to the two board members.

Curriculum writing is a long and tedious process. According to Cuppett, it can take up to two years. He said the planning portion would take a year alone, during which the curriculum team would identify standards for the course and instructional materials, and find the right instructor and school for the pilot class. It must then be approved by the Board of Education and the finishing touches put on in the summer before the pilot course is put into action.

For a course to be widely implemented across the district, it depends on the success of the pilot as well as the number of staff available.

Additionally, developed curriculums are based on grade level. One basic educational program focused on diversity could not be implemented as a blanket across the entire school system; lessons have to be developmentally appropriate. For example, some tough topics such as violence against minority groups might not be considered appropriate for an elementary schooler but could be taught in high school.

Tucker is worried, though, about taking too much time to get something in the books.

“I just don’t think people understand the long-term effects and the ramifications of just sitting on this issue without moving it forward,” she said.

Doing more

Although implementing a new curriculum may take longer than Tucker would like, other aspects may be able to be incorporated more quickly, such as Frederick’s own history — something that older black residents of Frederick say was not taught when they were in school.

David Key, a member of AARCH — the African American Resources, Cultural Heritage Society of Frederick County — grew up when the county was segregated and is on board with such an idea. His schoolbooks did not feature any people of color, he said.

“To me, I think every kid in Frederick County could benefit from knowing what Frederick was like at one time,” Key said. “And you don’t even have to zero in on Frederick. You can certainly include Frederick, but that [race relations] was sort of a national thing. It happened all over.”

School board member Bunitsky agreed.

“You need to take [students] on a little local Frederick history tour to get them to recognize that the world needed to change, it has changed and it needs to continue on,” Bunitsky said.

Cuppett said there are already some aspects of Frederick’s own history taught through local and state history curriculums.

For Tuscarora High School history teacher Tyler Hanson, it’s not just about incorporating local history but also making sure false perceptions aren’t taught.

This summer he attended a workshop, “The Seat of War and Peace,” in Washington, D.C. Teachers from across the country gathered to examine and learn how the Civil War and Reconstruction have been remembered throughout American history.

Many aspects of post-Civil War history have been either glossed over or misconstrued, Hanson said. He specifically points to the myth of the lost cause which has attempted to portray Confederate soldiers in a positive light.

“It is ultimately misguided in that it portrays the Confederate cause as a noble one, when in reality, slaves were horribly mistreated,” Hanson said. “There’s also lots of violence against the African-American community that gets covered up post-Civil War.”

He said marginalized voices have often been lost in the versions of history that have been traditionally taught. Hanson feels it’s his responsibility to bring those voices back to the surface.

“History that makes us comfortable is nice, it’s cozy, it’s easy to remember, it makes us feel good ... but in actuality, history is a lot more complicated,” Hanson said. “It’s important to teach all perspectives. ... If I’m not teaching all voices, I’m teaching a lie.”

For Harris, this means bringing attention to the U.S. Colored Troops who served in the Civil War. She is particularly interested in that period of history, even spending time at Monocacy National Battlefield. When she was growing up, she said, this period was romanticized in her schooling. Contributions of black soldiers, including the approximately 500 from Frederick, were largely ignored.

And it’s not just about black and white history. Diversity means all cultures and aspects of learning.

Elizabeth Chung, executive director of the Asian American Center of Frederick, believes languages are an area where there could be more diversity. She has proposed that the school system look at after-school programs where students can learn different languages beyond what is offered in the set curriculum.

She also sees a need for more cultural awareness programs such as an exchange student program to bring students from different countries to Frederick County schools. Chung says students need more global exposure to learn what the world offers outside of the United States. With those steps, students will learn to be more accepting and respectful of differences, Chung said.

“I always say I’m Chinese. My Chinese heart is just as good as others if they need me to donate [it] to them,” she said. “My blood is just as good as any other if they want blood for emergencies. I think looking at the similarities more than looking at differences helps our students see the importance of humanity.”

Specifically, in the current FCPS curriculum, Chung said she does not think Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern or South American history is taught enough. There’s Asian American History Month in May, but she wants students to learn about other holidays as well. Like Key, she said she does not believe Asian history should be kept to just one month.

What’s ahead

Moving forward, Women Solve may have a partner in getting a more diversity-focused curriculum.

On June 12, the Board of Education voted to approve the formation of a Racial Equity Committee. Right now, the Racial Equity Committee will likely look at the achievement gap among minority students and how to close it, as well as disproportionate suspension rates among students of color, but it could be an avenue for examining and implementing a new curriculum or specific courses as Tucker suggests.

School Superintendent Terry Alban said she hopes the committee will help direct future policy.

“What I expect is that this committee will ... make suggestions to the board for policies that they feel are needed, make the board aware of issues in the community that maybe we have or hadn’t heard about,” Alban said.

Applications for membership on the Racial Equity Committee will be accepted until Sept. 9. The goal, according to a press release, is to appoint up to 15 members from across the county with different backgrounds to represent a variety of communities. There is also an emphasis to include people of color.

Bunitsky said after the school board appoints members, bylaws for the committee will be drafted and the committee will begin working on tasks from the board as well as taking public comment.

Bunitsky said he hopes the work of the committee will lead to expanded knowledge about diversity.

“You need to have resources channeled into a problem or an issue in order to expand knowledge of that area. ... I’m hoping this committee will be able to provide information to the board so that the board gets to ask the right questions,” Bunitsky said. “I want this committee to work.”

The Board of Education will receive its first progress update from the newly formed Racial Equity Committee once the bylaws have been drafted.

In the meantime, Cuppett said the curriculum-writing team has been tasked with a renewed focus on equity.

“We are developing a yearlong approach to lensing all of our work from an equity perspective. We do that regularly, but we are a continuous improvement system and so we’re actually laying out a work plan for the year for us to have a renewed focus,” Cuppett said.

All agreed there is always the need for more and Cuppett said he is glad parents such as Tucker are pushing for that.

“I think the call for equity and diverse perspectives in education is one that many districts are working through across the nation, it’s a national conversation ... so the fact that we have parents that are interested in this ... it almost validates that this is important work,” he said.

Alban agreed.

“This is a legacy of our country that people have been grappling with for a long time,” she said. “We are always open to looking at new ideas and new ways to truly make every student know that they are valued and loved by the Frederick County public school system.”

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @KatrynaJill.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

(21) comments

Junebug76

I am grateful for Tucker's work and for FNP for this important piece. As a relatively new Frederick County resident with 3 school-age children of color (and living in a very white part of the county), I am disappointed in the lack of diversity and even efforts to improve this thus far. I'm happy that the BOE is getting the Racial Equity Committee launched, but this county has work to do. I'm eager to help where I can - I want to ensure that my children feel seen and heard in their classrooms and by their teachers/leaders. And we're not there.

Joey Pesto

FCPS needs to start with diversity at the Board of Education level then work their way down to principals, vice-principals, and teachers. That will take a commitment to good diverse recruitment. Unless this comes down from the top it will be a very slow process as it currently is. However, kudos to the FNP for exposing this FCPS issue.

Junebug76

Well said. I cannot agree more that this work starts with a hard look at those at the top, and then our teachers/administrators in the school. Implicit bias training is needed as well as adopting recruitment and retention strategies aimed at building a diverse leadership.

DickD

Diversity - I am all for it, but it is a two way street. Many blacks neglect the fact that whites suffered to get them freedom from slavery. The northern Abolitionists had a lot to do with it. And complaining because your child does not have more blacks in a class room,after moving from P.G. County to Frederick is ridiculous. If this was going to be a problem and your criteria, you should have stayed in P.G. County. P.G. County certainly has plenty of problems with their schools, we all know that or at least most of us know that. I would like to see more on diversity in any event. Slavery was never right, we cannot change history we can only learn and improve on what we have now. Have you ever noticed that blacks seek out other blacks to sit with at lunch or other events? Now, if you want diversity, you have to sit down and talk to each other, in a grown up manner. We need to help each other, get to like each other and all be better people. Now after the Civil War, blacks were almost as bad off as they were during the pre Civil War days. Tenant farming and separate but equal was never good. What fascinated me, coming from northern New York, was the separate restaurants and drinking fountains in the South. I SMH, Southerners had black people fix their meals and take care of their children, yet they could not use the same rest rooms and drinking fountains? Now that was a real quandary coming from an area where all were considered equal. Not that we were perfect, we knew very few blacks.



After Marine boot camp, I asked a black man to go into town with me. I liked him and got along just good with him, but he refused. Refused because he said he was not allowed. It took awhile for this to sink in, why would he not be allowed? I suppose both of us would have run into trouble if we had of gone into town together. But look at marriage laws too. It wasn't until recently that mixed marriages were allowed in Virginia.



By JR THORPE June 12, 2107https://www.bustle.com/p/50-years-ago-today-loving-v-virginia-made-interracial-marriage-legal-in-the-us-heres-how-they-got-there-63726                               Today is Loving Day, a holiday that celebrates the anniversary of Loving v Virginia, the Supreme Court case which declared interracial marriage legal across the US. It's shocking to remember that the ruling — which was a blow against institutionalized racism, a step towards greater marriage equality for all, and the basis for last year's award-winning film Loving, about the couple at the center of the legal storm — is only 50 years old, and that many of our parents were alive in an era when states could uphold laws barring people of different races from marrying. But it is true; and the fact that we're only a generation removed from a time when people were locked up, fined and exiled for daring to marry or cohabit with somebody of a different race is one of the most glaring examples of the racism that runs deep throughout our country's foundations.

thomascc20

Unfortunately, African American participation in our county and our country's development was limited because so many were enslaved or at least marginalized. Of course, their contributions should not be discounted or discarded but just integrated in proportion to their impact. Their contributions shouldn't be overestimated or underestimated.

francesca_easa

A voice of reason. Thanks Thomas.

phydeaux994

People are complaining about Plantation tour guides, like at Monticello, are talking too much about slavery??? Plantations = slavery.

.....https://beta.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/09/08/plantations-are-talking-more-about-slavery-grappling-with-visitors-who-talk-back/

francesca_easa

I see nothing wrong with teaching diversity. In the 70s, I learned about George Washington Carver, Dred Scott, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass amongst others. I learned about the explorers (many of them Spanish and Portuguese). I learned about Pancho Villa, Montezuma, Geronimo, and Chief Joseph, Sacagawea and other prominent American Indians. Can't say I learned much about Asians. But maybe because their influence here did not begin until the late 1800s? Not having attended Frederick County Schools, I can't speak to what is taught 40 years later.

BunnyLou

The history of this country cannot be changed or re-written. Many contributed to the building of the country willing or unwillingly, but many died trying to give those in bondage here the chance to be free. The time line of events was set and recorded as history. Teach it as it happened without the filters of diversity.

shiftless88

You are ignoring the fact that the history is not being told equally, but from a limited perspective. That is the entire point, which you missed.

neilyoungfan25

I think FCPS needs a better good diet and nutrition curriculum for children and adults too after reading this article!

jerseygrl42

a bit of hypocrisy here, Tucker lives in PG where there is plenty of diversity but doesn't like it because the school system is no good, so she moves apparently to a white section of Frederick where she believes the school system is good and then decides she doesn't like the school system because it isn't diverse enough...some folks just want everything their way ...maybe she should move into Frederick city where she can have both

thomascc20

[thumbup]

shiftless88

It often takes an outsider's perspective to make changes or to notice that changes could be made. Nothing unusual about that.

sevenstones1000

Excuse the typo. It’s the 1619 Project.

sevenstones1000

I suggest Ms Martin and FCPS investigate the wonderful 1629 Project put together by the New York Times. They have a curriculum and teaching aids associated with it.



Good luck to all in their attempts to write African Americans citizens back into their rightful place in American history - a place that has been denied for 400 years.

MD1756

While conceptually, I may agree (with caveats), are they going to increase the hours per day of school to include the new material? Otherwise, what materially is currently being taught that is deemed to be less valuable than any new material given that school hours won't be increased. In any event, I don't think those issues matter in the subjects that should be the most important (reading (maybe give them more choices in what they read even suggest subject areas to read), writing, arithmetic, problem solving, finance/budgeting (which isn't really being taught like it should if it is at all and is a subset of problem solving). While personally, I enjoy reading history, I didn't get to where I am today by worrying about the past. I got here through problem solving and planning for the future. In my opinion, Learning and applying those skills are what is truly important for people to be successful. If you truly want diversity, then plan ahead for our population matching the world's demographics (if we don't mimic the world's population then we haven't achieved the highest diversity that is possible) and develop materials for that.

User1

Maybe Tucker should move back to PG county! Claims to have moved here because of the schools and now want to change them? Interesting how suddenly Frederick County and Frederick City in particular are “needing” all this racial diversity schooling. And all the sudden minority “organizations” like AARCH and a “Race Equity Committee”. Families should start their child’s “diversity” education at home and not insist their first grader of kindergarten kid be taught in school. Listen to the outrage if there was a “White American Society”....can’t promote one race above another if you want to promote equality.....or is that what you really want?

Dwasserba

"White American Society" isn't marginalized. Cultural diversity training of any kind opens your eyes to your own mindset. Our Chinese American daughter is going through an apparently intense training where they evaluated groups and her group realized they were not as accepting as they thought. Being a minority person does not mean you are free of prejudice, the important thing is to be aware and to learn how to address people from realities different from your own, to realize in what ways realities are different. Our daughter said that after hours of testing and training she literally stepped out of the room and met someone who was not at the training who immediately asked her, "Where are you from?" The point being, in new situations as this is, meeting people, this question isn't asked as much of non-minority people. And when she says, "Frederick," if you're white they don't say, "No, I mean...." You can be Asian and be born here. But whether you are or not, whose business is it? Why do you need to know? That's all. Learn what's appropriate to say, and be aware of situations where minority people are being very kind and tolerant and patient toward questioners who don't know they are being offensive.

Samanthapowers

the times, they are a changin'. either get on board and embrace it or be relegated to the dust bin of history.

Comment deleted.
jerseygrl42

sounds like we have a Dr. in the house

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