Godwin English students celebrate Black History Month through film

In the 21st Century, technology is consistently used to supplement traditional curriculum. Whether it is online textbooks, virtual assignments, or internet review games, teachers have expanded their tools of education to coincide with the era of the internet.

Godwin 10th grade English teachers Stephen Wozny, Virginia Deker, and John Reaves have modified their curriculums to include technology and group discussions with team teaching as part of their planning.

Team teaching is when teachers of the same grade and subject choose to plan and carry out their lessons at the same time and with the same activities. Wozey, Deker, and Reaves have also decided to combine their classes for group discussions and other activities that coincide with the material they are teaching.

“The 10th grade team of English teachers has really worked hard to try to create a sense of uniformity in the content taught. By working together, we have been able to, and hope to continue to create some meaningful experiences for our students,” said Deker.

For the past couple of weeks, 10th grade English students have been studying the novel A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines.

“It’s a beautiful book about an awful time in our American history, the Jim Crow Era. A lot of us paler-skinned folk, me included, really do not understand what being a Black person is like. The novel reminds us that to understand the present, you must understand the past to even begin to solve the racial disharmonies seemingly ever-present around us,” said Wonzy.

For each unit, students spend class time reading, studying, and analyzing the novel. Afterwards, the teachers decide on the special activity that they will plan for their classes to combine in experiences.

For the unit studying Night by Elie Wiesel, Wozny, Reaves, and Deker planned a “Night Day” for three of their English classes and asked students to consider the darkest moments in their lives. If they chose to do so, they could share their experiences out loud.

“The entire day, we were amazed at how students opened up and shared details of their lives and reflected on what their ‘Nights’ taught them. All involved realized how we’ve all been through very difficult things, and importantly: we are not alone. We learned that hard times come to each one of us, and that, like with Wiesel (though a hard time we might have truly is not at all equal to being in the Holocaust) we too may find the purpose of our life because of, not in spite of the ‘Night’ we faced,” said Wozny.

Before introducing A Lesson Before Dying to his students, Wozny got a call from his son, Stephen Wozny Jr., a film major graduate from VCU, who told him of a documentary that he had begun to film, called 20 and Odd.

20 and Odd documents the misconceptions and truth surrounding 1619, the year the first African slaves were brought to North America.

“The title 20 And Odd refers to a document written by John Rolfe that describes the number of Africans aboard the ship The White Lion that brought them to Point Comfort, in modern-day Fort Monroe in Hampton,” said Wozny Jr.

This calendar year will commemorate the 400th anniversary of these events which inspired Wozny Jr. to make the film. The filming of the documentary began in August of 2018, and Wozny Jr. spent the following months filming alongside reporter Janet Roach as she interviewed several historians, archeologists, and living descendents of the first Africans in America.

“The 1619 commission, which has been holding commemoration events for a few years in Hampton to remember the first enslaved Africans brought to North America, contacted us to cover their event last year. Janet Roach, the reporter, and producer of the documentary, as well as our news director, thought the story had enough depth to it to warrant doing more research and really digging into it.,” said Wozny Jr.

The film itself not only focuses on the true story of these first Africans in America but also draws attention to the many trials that African-Americans have had to overcome and are still overcoming due to years of oppression and maltreatment.

“The novel, among other things, shows the really terrible legal and education situations Black people endured because of the racial prejudice of the times. The film does too. It harmonizes with the novel beautifully.” said Wozny.

20 and Odd also sought to provide students and the general public with information that has largely been absent from the narrative of the colonization and early ages of America. The film encourages its viewers to seek information
about the early African-American narrative that is not usually taught as part of US public education curriculum.

“One of the themes we consistently encountered was how so much of the history that we have been taught, while not inaccurate, is written from the perspective of those who were in power at the time, leaving out the voices of so many people. In this case, the voices of the earliest enslaved people, have been largely ignored. I think one of the conversation[s] this film can start is the importance of considering the voices and viewpoints we consider when we tell our history as a nation,” said Wozny Jr.

Wozny, Reaves, and Deker encourage their students to fill in the missing gaps in the curriculum with literature.

“We have more planned for the future and we hope to continue to create valuable and meaningful learning opportunities for students to combine literature, their own lives, and their communities,” said Deker.

Aside from educational purposes and general knowledge, the 10th grade English teachers along with Wonzy Jr. hope for the historical film and novel to open the door for students to think critically about modern day social issues.

“To understand the present, you must understand the past to even begin to solve the racial disharmonies seemingly ever-present around us,” said Wozny.

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