In January we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor his life and legacy. Black History Month comes in February, a time to celebrate Black Americans’ achievements and recognize their central role in U.S. history. That makes this an opportune time for me to highlight the Black history curriculum Portland Public Schools is developing and to share our vision around this work.

Xavier Botana is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at [email protected]

This curriculum will be essential to help our students gain a full understanding of the history of this country and Maine. This curriculum is being created with the recognition that Black history, achievements, excellence and humanity have all systemically been left out of the broad curriculum across the nation, including here at the Portland Public Schools.

The research is clear that it is important for students to be able to see themselves in what they learn in school. To date, our curriculum has served some students much better than others. As Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, incorporating Black history is part of our focus on equity, the central goal of the Portland Promise, our district’s strategic plan.

We’re in the early stages of creating this curriculum. This school year, a group of our teachers and Black education advisors are drafting an outline for a Black history curriculum for our students in pre-K through grade 12. Curriculum development will be in process during the 2022-2023 school year. We intend for this curriculum to offer opportunities for interdisciplinary learning across all content areas, not just social studies. Implementation of the curriculum will be supported by professional development for all teachers.

Our advisors have direct ties to Black communities and education needs. In response to their guidance, the curriculum we draft will not begin and end with slavery, as many curriculums do. Instead, it will focus on the humanity, resistance, advocacy and, above all, achievements of Black cultures from the ancient and the international to the contemporary and the local.

The curriculum will use local history to contextualize and connect national and international histories, events, topics and themes with Maine and New England. To aid in that, the group drafting the curriculum has partnered with the Atlantic Black Box project, a grassroots historical recovery project committed to surfacing New England’s connection to the transatlantic slave trade, while re-centering the stories of its racially marginalized groups.

Our curriculum will strive to celebrate Black excellence, as defined by Dr. Bettina Love. It will serve as a mirror for Black students from diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences to see themselves reflected in the curriculum and provide a window into that excellence for the rest of our diverse student body.

Our work dovetails with a new Maine education requirement that was signed into law in June. The new law requires that African American studies and Maine African American studies be added to what Maine students learn in their American history and Maine studies courses.

As with our Wabanaki studies curriculum, our Black history curriculum work isn’t about compliance, but it positions us in an important leadership role in our state. Above all, it will help our students truly understand Maine’s history and its connection to the world and will allow them to see themselves in that history.

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