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Windsor Public Schools launches Juneteenth-inspired summer reading program highlighting characters, authors of color

Bonnie Fineman, Director for Arts and Humanities says students of color make up 70% of the district and it's important for them feel represented in classrooms.

WINDSOR, Conn. — Juneteenth is days away, which means you can expect to see big celebrations all weekend long.

While some may be jubilant, similar to generations past, others are quieter – yet still making the same impact of commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.

Windsor Public Schools announced that its theme for Summer Reading 2021 is Juneteenth!

District officials said it’s a partnership with the Windsor Public Library and the Windsor Library Association.

During the program, students will explore books that celebrate Black Excellence and Black Achievement.

“All students can benefit from learning about Black History and Juneteenth,” WPS Director for Arts and Humanities, Bonnie Fineman said. “Black History is not just for folks of color. Black History is everyone’s history.”

RELATED: Celebrating Juneteenth | Descendant of Georgia slave shares her great, great, great, grandmother’s journey to Hartford

According to Fineman, students of color constitute about 70% of the Windsor Public Schools district.

She said it is important that students feel represented in classrooms, as it pertains to reading and writing.

Credit: Alana Seldon/FOX61

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that we are including all of our kids, that we are making all of our kids feel great and supported and represented,” she added. “There is a need to make sure that education is changing.

The program’s goal is to do just that.

Historians confirm that many educators today don’t know a lot about the African American experience. However, those at John F. Kennedy School have made it a priority to explore.

Principal Autumn Baltimore said students are receiving an equitable education, as the school expresses different cultures, people and genders every day.

“The fact that we have third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders saying ‘Hey, I would like to see myself in a book’ regardless of what self is, is really powerful and it’s our job to make sure we provide those resources so that they are able to be change agents for what they’re going to be learning,” Baltimore said. “When a student wants to learn and they’re engaged, then it’s highly effective practices going on.”

Credit: Alana Seldon/FOX61

RELATED: Here are the Juneteenth 2021 celebrations across Connecticut

Mercedes Jones, a first-year teacher in a 4th-grade classroom, said while teaching Black history is empowering and her favorite topic, she didn’t learn about Juneteenth’s significance until college.

“Representation is just super important. It’s important for my students to know the people that look like them have made such impacts in history,” she said.

Fineman also noted that during her grade school years, topics like Juneteenth were left out of lessons.

“I don’t remember reading a single book by an author of color,” she said, adding that it wasn’t until enrolling in Black Literature courses in undergrad, that a whole world, as she explained, was revealed to Fineman.

Helen Nguyen, also a 4th-grade teacher, said these subjects need to be taught early because some students won’t get that higher education experience.

“We need in public schools -- especially in elementary and middle -- to talk about these things so that they’re informed, they know where they came from and the history that continues to repeat itself,” she said. “So, when things happen in the present, they know and connect to the history that it followed.”

Nguyen added that it can be a lot of pressure to cram so much information in, but her goal is to ensure there are no gaps in her lesson planning.

The school district’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion have been paramount for students who don’t necessarily understand its significance.

Jones said she was once asked why their class was reading a book with Black people when it wasn’t February or Black History Month.

“It was shocking to me that they felt like there was a certain month or time that we could talk about groups of people,” she said.

According to Principal Baltimore, not only do the students need to know about Juneteenth, they want to. And the fourth graders told us themselves.

Credit: Alana Seldon/FOX61

Elijah:

“Still today, a lot of Black people are being harmed because White people don’t think that they belong,” Elijah said. “I think everybody should celebrate that holiday to congratulate Black people, for being who they are.”

McKenzie:

“I didn’t know that some slaves were not free until two years after it was announced, so that made me upset,” she said. “Every culture’s different and we should learn about other people.”

She added that the reason it’s important to be culturally aware is so that you don’t offend your peers.

Her example: “If you walk up to someone with a hijab on and then just pull it off, they will feel offended and it will be very rude.”

Macy:

“Juneteenth is the day that slaves became free and that is really important because no one should ever have to go through what they went through in their entire life,” Macy said.

Macy added that it makes her happy to see characters and people throughout history who look like her.

“I like to see what they’ve gone through and what I might go through when I’m older,” she said. “I’ll know how to handle it.”

RELATED: New mural in West Hartford honors MLK and other civic leaders

JFK’s Literacy Coach, Marguerite Smith said the town’s initiative is crucial for the future.

Although generations of students didn’t learn about Juneteenth and many other significant points throughout Black History in the classroom, Smith said they are now raising kinder, gentler, and more knowledgeable students, who will grow to accept everyone for who they are.

In addition to the summer reading program, the district furthered its commitment to highlighting Black excellence and achievement with a ‘Celebrate Juneteenth’ logo designed by a Windsor High School junior, DeAndre Satterwhite.

The logo incorporates colors from African flags, a heart in the center with two hands to show that we can lift each other up. It is featured on a billboard along I-91.

Credit: LAMAR x Windsor Public Schools
‘Celebrate Juneteenth’ logo designed by a Windsor High School junior, DeAndre Satterwhite

To launch its Juneteenth-inspired 2021 summer reading program, Windsor Public Schools’ families are invited to celebrate Juneteenth at the Wilson Branch Library on June 19.

The community will enjoy read-a-louds, African dance and drum performances, giveaways and more.

Additionally, a movie night kickoff will be held on June 25 at the Main Branch Library, where families will watch a movie on the green and students can receive free summer reading books.

For more information on the summer reading program and activities, click here.

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