Americans have been commemorating Black History Month since 1976 and students around the country join the celebration each year with units dedicated to the achievements of Black Americans.
Teachers at the Ahfachkee School used their creativity throughout February to engage students in a variety of projects through virtual schooling.
William H. Johnson
Fourth-grade teacher Sheri-Ann Armentano brought 20th century African American artist William H. Johnson to life for her students through his artwork. Considered a major American artist, Johnson produced thousands of paintings over the course of his career. His painting style evolved from realism to expressionism to folk art style, for which he is best known. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a substantial collection of his work.
Armentano instructed her class to write an essay and create a portrait based on Johnson’s work. The students responded with well-thought-out essays and creative portraits. Here are a few essays:
Audrina Osceola-Turtle: “My artwork represents my love of nature and my culture. Through cultural activities, I can explore the beautiful settings around me and interact with my family and friends through music and dance. The famous American painter, William H. Johnson, inspires me as an artist. He is best known for Folk Art and his depictions of African American subjects within urban life. Folk Art is a form of visual art that represents traditions of native people and their culture.
“Johnson’s artwork inspired me to create two pieces of art titled ‘A Dreamer’ and ‘In the Meadow.’ I wanted to create pictures that show the colors and shapes I see on the clothing that represents my Native American culture. Johnson also caught my attention because he makes art look easy. The vivid colors he uses makes his pictures look real. By using shapes, he taught me that you can take something that is ordinary and make it into a masterpiece. He inspires me to continue to grow as an artist through my culture.”
Kylie Billie: “Strawberries, oranges, watermelons, Oh my! My grandma’s first garden is filled with so many fruits. I can hear her say, “You must always remember to wash the fruits before eating them, but after you do, they are so juicy and sweet with just a little bit of tartness.”
“The African American painter, William H. Johnson inspired me to create this portrait of my grandma’s garden. The garden holds so much love to me. When I look at the portrait, I imagine myself sitting next to my grandma amongst all the fruits. I can see my grandma picking fruits to make fruit salad. The lemons are as bright as her dress. I appreciate Johnson’s artwork because he reminded me to take the time to think about the people who make a difference in your life, like my grandma.”
Adreaonna Gore: “William H. Johnson was a big inspiration to me. I had never seen so many bright colors in one painting. He inspired my photo to be the brightest it could be. I love seeing rainbows outside and anything in nature because that is where the brightest colors are.
“Sometimes you can walk outside after it has been raining all day and see the brightest colors on a rainbow. You can even see water puddles on the ground reflect images that look magical. Mr. Johnson’s art represents how art can be like magic; it seems so real like the nature we see every day.”
Kalina Cavazos: “William H. Johnson inspired me by using bright colors on the clothing and shapes. It reminded me of all the colors I see every day. My great grandmother uses different techniques to create the patchwork on my Seminole clothing. She uses bright colors and many different shapes to create her masterpieces just like William H. Johnson.
“In Seminole culture we also wear lots of bead accessories and necklaces. Many of the beads are different shapes and of course include so many vibrant colors. Whether it is patchwork or beads, each piece is put in an order to make a pattern. Just like in the painting, William H. Johnson created titled ‘Children,’ the hats the woman were wearing remind me of my great grandma’s patchwork.”
Janessa Clay Martinez: “The African American painter, William H. Johnson inspired me to create this portrait titled “The Farmer.” In the picture, I wanted to show the love that farmers have for their land. When I look at the picture, I imagine myself sitting in a field and looking up at the blue sky. I appreciate Johnson’s artwork because he reminded me to take the time to appreciate nature, like farmers who appreciate their land.”
Middle school teacher Coralys Roman Anthony’s students learned about the life of John Horse and his impact on Black Seminoles during the Seminole Wars. After watching a documentary, students answered a few questions individually.
One question asked for two examples of when Horse showed strength.
“He helped slaves and that he’s an African American and back in those times being Black was frowned upon and he still showed white America that he should be feared,” wrote eighth grader Nayana Shee Billie.
Another question asked what made Horse a hero.
“They considered him a hero because he saved them from slavery but he also gave them land,” wrote sixth grader Curmya Smith.
The next assignment was to write a short story about Horse’s life together, as a class, in a pass the story writing prompt. The team project was started by Anthony and went from student to student until everyone in the class contributed to the final story.
“Pass the story is done in the moment,” Anthony said. “We all have the presentation open at the same time and they type into it in real time. I’ll jolt their thinking and one student types it in.”
Anthony spins a wheel to determine who goes next. The project took an entire class period to complete, about 50 minutes. Each of her five classes, with seven to 10 students each, created their own stories.
“They bounce ideas off each other,” she said. “It takes the pressure off them to write an entire essay. Together they come up with the final product, it’s made as a team.”
The following essay was written by Anthony’s seventh grade, third period class:
“Not much is known about John Horse’s life. He was a leader for the Black Seminoles and he was fierce man that didn’t give up. He fought in the Second Seminole War in which the US had the worst defeat at the hands of the Seminole nation.
“He is important to Seminole history because he was a trusted advisor for Chief Osceola and he helped the Seminole nation against the US. He is important to Black history because he led hundreds of Blacks to freedom.”
Together the seventh graders from fourth period wrote this essay:
“John Horse was a great leader. He was also brave and fierce. He fought for the Seminoles in the Second Seminole War. He was responsible for the lives of about 200 people. He had married Susan July, the daughter of a Seminole Maroon guide and interpreter. He relocated to Nacimiento, Mexico. He was of mixed heritage. Overall, he is important to the Seminole and Black communities because he helped defend them against enemies and he relocated them as safely as possible.”