African American Literature class provides diversity in English curriculum

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Mallory Stirrat

During African American Literature, seniors AJ Ivy and TJ Fleming create Powerpoint presentations during their seventh period class. The assignment was focused on a specific artist that was individually assigned to the students by the teacher, Michelle Kerpash. “[The most interesting part of the unit was] just learning about new people. I knew nothing about [Sargent Claude Johnson] when I started,” Fleming said. “He was a famous sculptor and most of his paintings were based off of his African descent.”

Sitting in a circle, 19 African-American and three white students engage in a Socratic Seminar discussing the impact of slavery in American society during African-American Literature class. The long-awaited class began in August after previously failed attempts due to the lack of enrollment in years past.

“English teachers always talk about how books are both mirrors and windows, so you either see your own self reflected back to you or you see a window into someone else’s life,” English teacher Michelle Kerpash said.

African American Literature class is an open forum for discussion of ideas without judgment.

I think that anytime you get to choose the class you’re in based on what you like, you are more interested in the material and more motivated to read and discuss and learn,”

— English teacher Michelle Kerpash

“In the beginning, we had Socratic Seminars and it was just a big argument of what African-American women and males go through, so it gave other people a voice to say what they were thinking instead of holding it back,” senior Ronnell Burns said. “[But,] if you believe in what you believe then you will talk about it regardless of what class you are in.”

The class further offers an understanding of African American people and their individual stories. 

“I think that anytime you get to choose the class you’re in based on what you like, you are more interested in the material and more motivated to read and discuss and learn,” Kerpash said.

Mallory Stirrat
Researching American Sculptor Augusta Savage, senior Eman Abuzeid learns about the humble beginnings of the artist. “I realized that she started from the bottom and that she had hope to grow. I found that really interesting,” Abuzeid said.

Kerpash believes students previously self-edited away from the class because they ‘did not think it was the right fit for them,’ even though the class is open to all students.

“I definitely didn’t know that there was so much about [African American Literature] because we don’t learn about it in history classes or other English classes,” senior Cate McBride said. “It’s definitely interesting to find out how much of it there actually is.”

This course has allowed McBride to learn about the history and literature of African Americans that she would not have learned in other courses. 

“I see other people’s struggles and what they go through. Usually, I would just be selfish and only think about myself, [but] now I think about other people,” Burns said. “It has helped me understand there are more people in the world then just me and everyone goes through their own struggles no matter what they’re going through.”

The class can be taken as an elective or can be used as an option to replace a regular English course.

“I think we have a shortage of good electives,” Kerpash said. “I think that we should have more classes that appeal to your interests and I think that kids should have more choices. Especially for junior and senior year, in terms of what they want to take, this is a class that other high schools have offered for a long time and I think it’s just about time that West offered it.”