Pioneer High School and ASC Collaborate in Teaching African Studies
Twenty 11th and 12th graders from Pioneer High School are getting their first taste of college-level work this semester. They are enrolled in “African History and Culture,” an accelerated class, taught by Pioneer’s Madeline Micou, that features a line-up of U-M professors who give guest lectures on two of the five weekly class meetings. Says Micou: “The class was a bit challenging for the students at first: they’re getting such a range of new information, and had to get some college-level skills such as note-taking up to speed pretty quickly. But they handled it well, and have really started to appreciate the wealth of knowledge that the U-M professors bring.”
The class at Pioneer is part of the Rising Scholars program, a partnership between the Ann Arbor School District and U-M’s Center for Educational Outreach, the Department of African-American and African Studies, and the African Studies Center. Established in 2009, the Rising Scholars program seeks to address Ann Arbor schools’ achievement gap between students from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. High-achieving 8th graders from economically disadvantaged families or under-represented groups are invited to become Rising Scholars in the summer before entering high school. In high school, they take classes together, learn what it takes to get into selective colleges and universities, and are challenged to take the more demanding classes that are often required for admission at schools such as U-M. The African studies class is currently offered at Pioneer only, although the Rising Scholars Program operates at two other local high schools.
The idea to offer an accelerated class focused on African cultures and history not only provides the students with a chance to learn at a college level, it also serves to build cultural awareness and prepare students for what is envisioned as an every-two-years Rising Scholars overseas trip. They hope to make the first of these trips to Africa or a country with a significant African diaspora. Parents of the Rising Scholars students are in charge of fundraising for this unique opportunity for their children and are now studying options for the first trip, scheduled for the spring of 2013.
ASC’s contribution to the Rising Scholars partnership largely depends on the readiness of its affiliated faculty to guest lecture to the high school students. Over twenty faculty members across U-M’s schools and departments—including Obstetrics, Public Policy, Education, Classics, History, Romance Languages, History of Art, African Studies, among many others—and a number of visiting UMAPS scholars have presented at Pioneer. Some faculty volunteered to speak on multiple occasions, while others commented that they had long wanted to be part of an initiative such as the Rising Scholars program. A member from U-M Dearborn’s Music program suggested she could bring in an entire set of jembe drums for the students to use, and another faculty member arranged to have a visiting filmmaker from Burkina Faso speak to the class and show one of her short films.
Both the high school students at Pioneer and the U-M faculty who have lectured to them so far are expressing their appreciation for the class. According to Warren Whatley, a professor of Economics and Afro-American and African Studies who talked to the class about the economic aspects of slavery, “thestudents were charming and responsive, especially for a 7:30 am class, and we covered as much as I cover in my undergraduate classes at U-M.” The students, for their part, are consistently impressed by the passion the various professors have for their particular research topic and the African continent in general. This enthusiasm can be contagious, as evidenced by the comments of students who noted on their evaluation forms, “I would love to get involved!” The experience of Geoff Emberling from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology exemplifies the mutual appreciation of the students and faculty for both each other as well as the class and program as a whole. Emberling, whose lecture about ancient Nubia really sparked the students’ interest, reports how much he, in turn, appreciated the students’ engagement and questions: “I enjoy speaking to different audiences, because they all have their own perspectives. This class was particularly great in that respect—I was talking about ancient burials and the fact that the bodies had often been disturbed by ancient looters. One student asked, ‘What happened to the heads?’ That’s not something archaeologists have generally thought much about, but it opens up a series of new questions for my research.”