Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements by African Americans and recognize their central role throughout U.S. history, is a subject Mark Ureel, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at South Canton Scholars Charter Academy, is passionate about teaching.
Mr. Ureel believes that teaching history is like molding a piece of clay. “American history is our story and I get the opportunity to tell stories every day to teach morals and life lessons that I hope my students will remember many years past their days at South Canton.”
He is able to connect black history into his daily American history routine throughout the month of February, including playing music each day from famous African American artists of the 20th Century, like Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Chuck Berry, Harry Belafonte, and more. He likes to start with artists his students don’t know to expand their horizons.
He also recently played Black History Bingo in class, where his students researched 25 influential African American figures on a Bingo sheet. Then, Mr. Ureel gave a description of the person, and students had to match the person with the description.
For Moral Focus, he shows biographical videos that spotlight famous African Americans including quotes, which he uses to relate to February’s Moral Focus virtue – courage. “It is very easy to tie leaders of the Civil Rights Era to courage because it was difficult to stand up for what they believed in knowing that the police, local government, and many of their fellow citizens were not on their side.”
During Black History Month, his students work on projects regarding 19th Century reformers and abolitionists including Sojourner Truth, Frederik Douglass, John Russwurm, Samuel Cornish, and David Walker.
Mr. Ureel is passionate about educational innovation, because he believes that people learn best from experiences. “To me, educational innovation means making each day of learning into an experience instead of a lesson,” said Mr. Ureel. “It means finding ways to spark creativity, a critical skill that students need in order to develop into leaders. It teaches about risk-taking and problem-solving, but most importantly, it gives students a sense of purpose in their work and allows them to express themselves. Innovation also means finding a better way of doing things and not adhering to the traditional methods.”
This belief inspires him to experiment with new methods in order to do better, as opposed to reusing the same methods and projects, even if they are successful.
“Mr. Ureel makes it his mission and goal to identify new ways to teach and engage his middle school scholars,” said Dana Gurganus, principal at South Canton Scholars. “He is constantly innovating and finding new ways that he can make his content relevant to our 21st century learners.”
Keep up the incredible work, Mr. Ureel!