June 19, 1865: Word of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally reaches a group of the last enslaved people in the U.S., located in the heart of the Confederacy at Galveston, Texas.
June 12, 2021: Nearly 160 years later, President Biden commemorates the moment by declaring Juneteenth — also called “Freedom Day” or “Black Independence Day” — as an official federal holiday.
The history of Juneteenth is a deep and complicated experience for Black people in the United States. And while it has only been an official federal holiday for a couple of years now, our country’s Black communities have been celebrating and building traditions around the day for over a century. By discussing and celebrating Juneteenth in the classroom, educators offer an affirming experience for Black students — and a learning experience for all students, promoting understanding and empathy (EdWeek).
Says DonorsChoose CEO (and former teacher) Alix Guerrier, “One way to deliver on the promise of Juneteenth is to ensure that our students learn that Black history is American history … we celebrate the teachers who bring these stories and more to their classrooms, teaching all of their students a complete history of our nation’s defining victories and darkest hours.”
As students learn about Juneteenth and reflect on its significance, we’re spotlighting classroom projects that showcase how DonorsChoose teachers bring these lessons to life for their students.
What Does Teaching Juneteenth Look Like?
Over the last 5 years, our team has seen a 117% increase in classroom projects requesting resources for students to "see themselves" — and that very much includes Juneteenth-focused projects. Here are just a handful of classroom projects from our teacher community — each using Juneteenth-focused education in different ways to help their students learn:
Getting Juneteenth On the Shelves
“As the librarian I am hoping to expand our Juneteenth Celebration this year to make it school wide. Over half of our students identify as black so this is particularly important.” — Ms. Walkama
Students who experience culturally responsive teaching practices develop a deeper sense of racial identity — and a trove of studies favorably link racial and ethnic pride and belonging to school engagement, interest in learning, and even better grades. With over half of students at her school identifying as black, Ms. Walkama‘s Juneteenth Books a Celebration of Our Students Personal History project aims to give her students this feeling of belonging and pride by updating the school’s library shelves with history books that reflect their identities, histories, and experiences.
Food For Thought (And For Learning)
“We want to expose the children to these traditional foods so they can truly get an authentic Juneteenth celebration.” —Ms. Rudzinski
Ms. Rudzinski knows Juneteenth’s history isn’t only found in textbooks. Her Juneteenth Celebration project also brings her students lessons through traditional foods that are all rooted in the historic holiday — including strawberry soda, red velvet cake, and gumbo.
Wearing History On Your Sleeves
“Many of my students need to be made aware of, and learn, the history behind Juneteenth. They know of the over-commercialization of this ‘Freedom Day’ but not the historical legacy highlighting education and the many achievements of African Americans.” — Ms. Thomas
Juneteenth falls during summer break for many schools, including for Ms. Thomas and the High Schoolers she teaches. Her Celebrating Juneteenth project aims to leave a lasting educational impression (with bonus t-shirts included) to help young people carry the history and culture of Juneteenth home with them even after the school year ends.
Lessons With Story Quilts and More
“My 5th grade students will be reading ‘The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure’ for their TPSP project on story quilts … helping my students develop the essential skills of logical thinking, creative problem solving, intellectual risk taking, and communicating.” — Ms. Crossland
In An Interactive History Adventure! Story Quilts! Novel Study! Fabric Markers!, Ms. Crossland’s learners are gaining a unique, interactive approach to learning history, quilting, and storytelling all woven within the history of Juneteenth itself.
Getting The Full Picture for June 19 and Beyond
“Our photography program is a way to help students and our photographers explore the art through a lens which can zoom, provide enhancements, and tell a story. As we come to a close of the year, these lenses will play many roles in how we uplift students' creativity, and celebrate Juneteenth.” — Ms. Logan
The history of Juneteenth is also the history of Black culture and life in America across nearly 160 years and beyond. That’s while Ms. Logan’s See the Future Through Lens art photography project isn’t only for Juneteenth, her students are nonetheless encouraged to bring their full selves and utilize their unique skills — in this case, photography — to build community and honor and celebrate the occasion with their own creative expressions.
Juneteenth In Action
“Giving these students the resources they need and deserve sends a message: We value you and we value your education. My students work hard and want to be here.” — Ms. Chapman
Research on culturally responsive teachers reveals that, beyond foregrounding students’ culture in the classroom, these teachers build students’ awareness of social justice issues encountered in their daily lives and communities through rigorous, project-based activities. For Ms. Chapman’s Activism! Activism! Read All About It project not only brings students a comprehensive view of Black history and social reform movements but allows them to bring those lessons to life by participating in a student-led activist project for Juneteenth.
Want to support a teacher’s classroom project for Juneteenth this year — or get inspiration as you create your own? You can explore our full list of Juneteenth-focused projects here and learn more about DonorsChoose Equity Focus Schools here.
1Does Culturally Relevant Teaching Work? An Examination From Student Perspectives: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244016660744