African-American literature comes to Prep

African-American literature comes to Prep
December 28
05:00 2017

Seniors at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy (WSPA) have the opportunity to take an English course that is unlike anything else being taught in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School district. If you were to walk into Jessica Ridgeway’s first period English, class you would see what I mean.

For the first time, Ridgeway, who is a third-year teacher at WSPA, is teaching an African-American literature course. Ridgeway said she got the idea for the course after introducing her junior Advanced Placement (AP) course to a number of African-American classics last year. She said after witnessing her students engage and have constructive conversations, she knew it would be a good idea.

“The AP students really enjoyed the African-American literature I gave them last year, so they wanted a course just for that their senior year,” continued Ridgeway. “And that’s what we did. I fought for it and we got it.”

Although the course may be tougher than the average elective course, the juniors from Ridgeway’s 2016 junior AP English course were eager to sign up for the class. After each lesson, students are required to present a Socratic seminar, where they are required to come up with questions on the text.  Ridgeway, who is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, said the textbook she uses is the same many colleges use for the course. 

Since the beginning of the school year, the students have traveled through time exploring the plight of African- Americans by reading works by some of the greatest Black writers of all time and discussing their use of literary elements.

So far students have discussed the Reconstruction Era, and are now taking a look at the Harlem Renaissance. A few days before Christmas break, students read an excerpt from Zora Neal Hurston’s “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.” A single passage from the novel sparked conversations among students. Ridgeway said, while sometimes conversations do get heated, she reminds the students that they have to respect others’ opinions.

She said, “I try to let the students talk amongst themselves as much as possible, but sometimes I have to step in and remind them that they have opinions but other people do as well.”

While still covering important literary elements like allusion, metaphor, simile and alliteration, classroom discussions oftenlead to conversations on race relations in the U.S. today. Several students said that’s what they enjoy most about the course.

Senior Daysi Ruiz said the class is important because as the future of the country, they need to be aware. Ruiz said although she is Hispanic, she faces a lot of the same struggles as African-Americans.

“A lot of people our age still don’t understand the concept of slavery and how it still impacts us today,” Ruiz said.   

Senior Ja’Nia Barber said she was amazed at the amount of African-American literature Ridgeway introduced to the class in such a short period of time. Barber, who will attend UNC Greensboro next fall, said the class also helped with her self-awareness. 

“Ms. Ridgeway does a really good job of giving us stuff to read that relates to us,” continued Barber. “She really helped me become more aware, which has helped me build more character.”

Senior Tedaoral Mitchell said although he has taken history courses in the past that discussed African-American history, they were nothing like Ridgeway’s class.

“In Ms. Ridgway’s class we go really deep into the subjects we discuss. In my history classes, we talk about African-American history but we never stay on it too long.” Mitchell said.

With the semester set to begin in mid-January, Ridgeway seems confident that the African-American literature course will continue at WSPA. She said she has already been introducing her other classes to more African- American literature.

“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time and never had the opportunity to, and I’m elated to see how much the students are enjoying the course. These are probably some of the brightest kids who are going to graduate from this school in recent history,” Ridgeway said.

“It feels good to know that they are open to learning about their history and they want to be challenged, that’s the biggest thing.” 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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