Making black history exciting for pupils


March 10, 2000|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last Friday, FOUR teams of Patuxent Valley Middle School pupils answered questions about AfricanAmerican history in the school's Black Saga Competition.

The pupils sat on the stage in the school cafeteria. The audience included all the sixth-graders and Jennifer Kaplan's eighth-grade French classes. Kaplan is one of the program's coordinators.

For 16 grueling rounds, the young people immersed themselves in 500 years of history.

Charles Christian, author of "Black Saga," the book from which the questions were drawn, was the host. Christian is a geography department faculty member at University of Maryland, College Park.

When the dust settled on stage, Team Two -- eighth-grader Andrew Langowski, seventh-grader Fiona Schram and sixth-grader Steven Stephenson -- had almost aced the test, answering 15 of 16 questions correctly.

Fiona, a Savage resident, learned about the competition in January when Kaplan, her French teacher, encouraged pupils to enter.

"I've always been interested in things like black history," Fiona said, "because it's interesting to find out what people did back then."

After signing up to compete, Fiona read a study packet based on Christian's book. Last month, she and other interested pupils took a qualifying test. The highest scorers formed teams.

Then the real studying began.

Each of the four teams was given a second packet of 730 questions. The in-school competition would cover the first 400 questions.

Team Two split the questions among its three members and hit the books.

Luckily the pupils had ample time to study on school "B" days. (Patuxent Valley pupils study different subjects on "A" and "B" days.) The Black Saga competitors met in Judith Cephas' class -- Cephas is the contest's other coordinator -- to study and quiz each other.

Fiona and her teammates tried to study together outside school, but they were less successful. "We met once after school for two hours," Fiona said, "but we found that we study better by ourselves."

Fiona spent two months preparing for the competition. She and her teammates must learn 330 additional questions for the statewide competition March 18 at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"Some of the inventions were fun to read about," she said, referring to the invention of dry cleaning by an African-American. "And I'm also kind of shocked about what white persons did to blacks because we're not really going to go around and say that we did these bad things to people," she added. "Before I even started, I had never heard of the Jim Crow laws or the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the Grandfather Clause that was cheating blacks out of voting in some states.

"You don't hear about the failed revolts but they are there, and they aren't going to disappear if you ignore them," she said.

Also participating were pupils Stephanie Burgess, JaQuelia Conley, Donielle Johnson, Tae Kim Amanda Moore, Matthew Radhe, Sade Stephenson, Elena Williams, and Nicole Wilson.

A thank you is due to Principal Sterlind Burke for supporting this program.

Ice in spring

The Columbia Figure Skating Club celebrates the end of winter with a spring ice show -- a family show featuring local talent.

The show, "Swing Into Spring with Music, Music, Music" includes skaters from our area. Lindsay Beale, Ashley Brooks, and Ilana Greene -- all of North Laurel -- are performing.

These young newcomers to the club, who are in elementary school, are skating in their second show, having debuted in the club's "Nutcracker" in the winter.

North Laurel resident Anna Campos, 17, who has been skating with the club for nearly a decade, has a solo in the show. She will be traveling to Paris in the spring to perform with the Annapolis-based Chesapeake Skating Ensemble.

Two performances will be held each day at 1 p.m. and 4: 30 p.m. April 1 and 2 at Columbia Ice Rink on Thunder Hill Road.

Tickets are $8.50.

Information: 410-461-9948. The show often sells out, so call early.

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