Students research military and their families for lessons in black history

COLUMBIA—Students at St. Martin de Porres School celebrated Black History Month with a salute to generations of men and women who have served their country in the armed forces. 

The theme for this year’s celebration was “The Year of the Veteran.”  Every student in the school researched a topic related to African American service in the U.S. military, from the American Revolution up to the present day. They presented their projects at a celebration held at the school on Feb. 13. 

Veterans who attend St. Martin de Porres Church and others from the school community attended the event and talked about their experiences in the armed forces. Many people brought memorabilia to show the students and then put on display in the auditorium. Uniforms, flags, photos, medals, and other items placed next to the students’ exhibits were a testament to the veterans’ service and sacrifices.

Students in Jaleesha Ferguson’s fifth- and sixth-grade classes studied the Tuskegee Airmen and prepared a large exhibit about the historic group of World War II pilots. Ferguson said the project took about a week and allowed her students to show off their creativity. Their display included two hand-drawn illustrations depicting the airmen.

“My group loves projects that allows them to combine art and research,” Ferguson said. “It was exciting to see them so excited about a topic. It was like watching a light bulb come on in each of them when they learned new information about things their grandparents and other family members experienced.” 

Sixth-grader Kennady Mitchell, 11, focused on two of the airmen: Capt. Mac Ross and 1st Lt. Leroy Bowman. She was surprised to learn that Lt. Bowman was a South Carolinian, a native of Sumter who retired to the Midlands after many years of working in education in New York. Lt. Bowman was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen  who flew in the 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the Red Tail Angels. He flew 36 combat missions against the German Luftwaffe. 

“I enjoyed learning about how Capt. Ross was determined to fly planes even through segregation, when it was hard for black people and white people to come together, and it was interesting to learn that Lt. Bowman came from this state,” she said. 

Students in the pre-K program did a project on African Americans in the U.S. Navy, and kindergarten and first graders focused on African-American women in the military. 

“It was great to see the students so excited about learning new things, and I think the parents enjoyed it as well,” said Antoinette Wright, who teaches kindergarten and first grade. 

Wright said several of the students have parents or grandparents who are also veterans, and it offered them a chance to learn more about the contributions of their own family members. 

Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss:

Top photo, Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Mason Folston and Jeremiah Ford, both 5, stand in front of a class display on African Americans in the U.S. Navy that they helped prepare for a Black History Month tribute to veterans at St. Martin de Porres School.

Provided: Veterans from St. Martin de Porres Church and School, plus others from the community, contributed memorabilia that was displayed during a Black History Month tribute to veterans at the school.