Kathleen Kirkman's advisory on their Black History Month scavenger hunt

How Middle School students observe Black History Month

How would you do on the Colorado Academy Middle School scavenger hunt to find answers to questions about accomplished African Americans? Try your hand at some of these questions:

Chadwick Boseman was nominated for Best Actor and 15 other awards in 2020 for his performance in which movie? 

What is the name of the all-Black climbing team preparing to summit Mount Everest?

Who were the Buffalo Soldiers?

Which current leader said, “Our unity is our strength and our diversity is our power?”

On a Thursday morning, Middle School science teacher Kathleen Kirkman’s advisory students raced from one classroom door to the next to find the answers to 17 questions. By the time they returned to her classroom, they were talking nonstop about new information they had acquired during what looked like a game.

“The idea behind this project is to engage students in their own research and in the research done by other students,” Kirkman says. “We want students to learn more about major contributions of Black Americans, and even though this looks like a fun scavenger hunt, it really connects them to all of our history.”

During Black History Month, all the students in the Middle School work with their advisories to decorate classroom doors with information honoring distinguished African Americans and their place in the country’s history. In its third year, this project was originally launched by a Middle School student and has become a tradition appreciated by both teachers and students.

“We want to learn more about our diverse world all year long,” says Sara Monterroso, a Spanish and civics teacher who is a member of the Middle School DEI Team, which also includes Kirkman and science teacher Thanh Luong. “Having a history month means we set aside classroom or advisory time to focus on this subject, and that gives us momentum to keep going through the rest of the year.”

Jacob Miller works on the Full Circle Everest Expedition door with his teacher, Sara Monterroso.

The origins of the door project

The Black History Month doors project was conceived by current Sophomore Domonique Megginson when she was a Middle School student leader. Director of Inclusivity Sarah Wright helped her develop the project. The original idea was that each Middle School advisory would learn about a single Black historical figure who made a contribution to U.S. history or culture. In the first year, Megginson helped direct students to specific, but often unrecognized people, including a ballerina and a cowboy.

Last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Middle School expanded its horizons with a Zoom-friendly project for Hispanic Heritage Month. They also revised the Black History Month project to be more open-ended and to include categories of people which students could choose and research, including: U.S. History, Activism, Theater/Cinema, Science, Medicine, Politics, Military, Law, Music, Visual Art/Architecture, Business, Computers/Technology, Education, Literature, Religion/Theology, Media/Journalism, Outdoors/Environment, International/Diplomacy, Youth, Sports, Engineering, Exploration, and Food Education.

“As we got into the planning, students really got drawn into it,” says Monterroso. “Everyone has an opinion, so there is a lot of teamwork and collaboration going into creating the door.”

Monterroso’s advisory chose sports as their category this year. As they planned the door, their definition of “sports” evolved. Eventually, they researched the Full Circle Everest Expedition, a cohort of climbers who hope to be the first all-Black team to summit Mount Everest this spring.

“Originally, I thought we would research famous athletes like Serena Williams and Pelé,” says Eighth Grader Jacob Miller. “But we wanted it to be different, so we ended up choosing the Full Circle Everest Expedition, which was interesting because some of the climbers are from Colorado.”

“I think there is the perception that climbing has been dominated by certain races,” adds Maris McPheeters. “I didn’t realize how much there was to learn, and I was really inspired by what these climbers are doing.”

The scavenger hunt answers

Through the last half of February, Middle School advisories took turns exploring and learning from each other’s doors. At the end of 30 minutes, Kirkman’s students had found many of the answers they sought: the late Chadwick Boseman was honored for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; the climbers call themselves Full Circle Everest Expedition; Buffalo Soldiers were members of African American cavalry regiments of the U.S. Army from 1867 to 1896; and Vice-President Kamala Harris spoke about unity and diversity.

Learned through research and discovery, this is history that sticks in the minds of Middle Schoolers.

“If you do a presentation one day in class, you can forget it the next,” says Jacob. “Here you can walk around for a whole month and really learn from each door.”

“This becomes a Middle School community-building exercise, and I really appreciate the buy-in of the faculty and students,” adds Monterroso. “This is important work in terms of our community and the world. All of our students need to see their lives reflected in our curriculum, on-campus activities, and conversations.”