DENVER (CBS4)— Schools across Colorado are embracing Black History Month this February, and some schools are taking the celebrations a step further by including anti-racist philosophies in their curriculum. Several elementary schools in Denver Public Schools have started educating young students on the history of racism and are encouraging them to use their voices to be inclusive to all.
"It is important that we illuminate Black voices and talk about what Black people have meant to this country," said Michael Atkins, Principal at Stedman Elementary School in Denver.
Students like Raphaelle Chieza, a 9-year-old fourth grader, said they've learned about how they can use their voices to try and end racism. Chieza said students have learned how they can "call-in" their peers who make offensive comments by nicely pulling them aside and explaining to them privately why their actions were offensive.
"Be anti-racist, be an activist and educate others to make a world a better place. And that is one way to be an activist," Chieza told CBS4's Dillon Thomas.
Students at Stedman are encouraged to embrace their differences if, or when, they notice them.
"I can be an activist and speak up for other people who can't," Chieza said. "Age doesn't really matter."
According to Atkins the student body of around 400 kids are largely made up of three diverse backgrounds. The school is roughly 30% Caucasian, 30% Black and 30% Latino.
"We learn best when we are in settings around people who are different than us," Atkins said.
Atkins, who grew up in the area and has lived nearly his entire life in Denver, said he hoped to provide all of his students an educational experience which he didn't receive.
"I was bussed out of this community for elementary and middle school," Atkins said.
Teacher Kyra Solomon said her classes involve teaching kids about privilege and activism, among many topics.
"We cover a range of different topics from what is activism? What is power and privilege? To what is allyship and what does it mean to be an ally? Which are concepts as adults we are still learning," Solomon said.
Solomon said her class has discussed how everyone is born with different and unique privileges, and her class spends time discussing how they can use their own privileges to support their peers.
Some parents in the state of Colorado have suggested that elementary school is too young for children to be learning about race, privilege and prejudices.
Some parents around DPS and the state have removed their children from schools instead electing to enroll them in classes where race and other similar topics aren't as large of a portion of the curriculum at younger ages.
"It is never too young (to introduce the topics). We have to be intentional with what we are modeling for our children," Atkins said.
Atkins said one of the best ways to teach students on how they can be anti-racist is to show them through the actions of adults.
Solomon said she has noticed her students are already absorbing the theme and message.
"It is great to see young kids able to pick up on complex topics that are pertinent in our society today," Solomon said. "I wish I could've had this content at their age. I can see already their budding social justice minds turning, putting the pieces together. I can make a change."
The staff at Stedman said they hope the lessons of today will illuminate and elevate the voices of tomorrow.
"(Our students)are going to be the ones who really shift the way we live here in this country," Atkins said. "The future started yesterday and we are going to capitalize on it today."
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