High expectations in `Saga' contest

Oakland Mills students eager to face competition in African-American history

January 27, 2008|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

The thrill of being county champs is not enough for Krystal Roggerson, Michelle Adu and Bryan Royster.

Last year, the Oakland Mills Middle School students won a tuneup contest before going on to place eighth in the statewide Black Saga competition, which pits teams of three against one another in a test of African-American history.

This year, the group of 13-year-olds wants more.

"I have high expectations for how they will do this year," said Philip Wright, a technology teacher at Oakland Mills who serves as co-coordinator of the school's Black Saga teams. "We're ready."

Roggerson started practicing during winter break. She returned to school pumped and ready to compete, and the trio has been meeting twice a week during school days. The group also quizzes one another over the phone.

"I was trying to push everyone to study hard," Roggerson said.

The preparation has paid off. The group placed first in a school-wide competition earlier this month.

"We work together pretty well," said Royster, who competed in his first competition last year, while Roggerson and Adu have participated since sixth grade. "For the most part we know what we need to know."

Howard County will hold its third systemwide competition at 9 a.m. Feb. 2 at Wilde Lake Middle in Columbia, an event that aims to prepare teams for the finals at Towson University on March 15.

The team from Oakland Mills will have its hands full. Fourteen teams are scheduled to compete in the tuneup, said Mark Stout, coordinator for secondary social studies in Howard County.

Kiana Kendrick, 13, an eighth-grader at Oakland Mills, said her team has been studying hard to dethrone her classmates.

"I expect that other schools and teams will be on top of their game," said the first-year participant. "We'll have to step it up."

The defending state champions, a trio of seventh-graders from Patuxent Valley Middle School, opted to skip the county contest and compete at the state level.

The state competition, which started in 1992, is based on the 608-page book Black Saga: The African American Experience: A Chronology. Now there is an elementary and middle school division. Each first-place team at the state level receives $300 and the team members' names are inscribed on a plaque awarded to the school. Second-place winners receive $200; and third-place winners take home $100. In addition, the second- and third-place winners also have their names inscribed on a plaque.

Black Saga is important to students because it goes beyond classroom curriculum, Stout said.

"You can't know American history unless you know the African-American experience," Stout said, echoing the words of the competition's founder and director Charles M. Christian, the author of Black Saga.

The competition has made quite an impression on Adu, who owns Christian's book.

"I've learned that there are more people who have contributed to black history," Adu said. "Everyone always says Martin Luther King, but there are a lot more who have contributed."

The key to a successful team is experience and family involvement, said Nan Dove, a Gifted and Talented Resource teacher and Black Saga co-coordinator at Oakland Mills Middle.

"I've really seen how they have come together," Dove said. "It takes that type of commitment. They have family support. They practice at the dinner table."

Roggerson's mother, Yetta, has enjoyed studying with her daughter in preparation for the competitions.

"I think it is really positive," she said. "The things that these kids are learning are not taught in history books."

The competition becomes a family affair, Stout added.

"It promotes a very strong sense of community," Stout said. "I'm always fascinated in the family participation. I really think it is wonderful to see the families at the competition. A lot of the studying and preparation occurs outside of the school day."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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