By Meagan Taylor-Booth and Mitzi Fehl-Seward

On August 24, 2019, Governor Northam directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to collaborate with Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media, and committees of history teachers, historians, and history professors to develop a new African American history course for high school students. The full-credit course surveys African American history from precolonial Africa through the present.

As part of this project, WHRO designed five African American History online modules that are part of the blended learning course. The African American History online modules highlight African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and the United States of America. Throughout each module, students will access comprehensive and media-rich lessons, engaging interactivities, varied assignments, and real-world assessments. The VDOE-created course map integrates both the online modules and offline learning activities. Students will interact with their teachers, peers, and content to:

  • Identify and understand the African origins and developments of the Black experience in North America;
  • Evaluate how African Americans have shaped, contributed, and have been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state, and local governments;
  • Evaluate and interpret the various paths of civic responsibility that led to quests for equality, justice, and freedom for individuals and communities facing barriers and oppression based on race, class, and gender; and
  • Analyze and understand how the institution of slavery in the United States shaped beliefs about race and the supremacy of one race over another and influenced America’s economy and politics.

Christonya Brown, the VDOE History and Social Science Coordinator, said, “This has been a great opportunity to provide teachers and students of the Commonwealth a different way to engage with history content. The use of the online modules in this blended format helps students to see the local history, think about the global aspects, and act in an informed way to make change. During our work on the online modules, almost anything that we could imagine, the development team at WHRO found a way to make possible.”


An image from the new course

The students’ exploration of African American History culminates in a capstone project. This project-based opportunity allows students to apply knowledge learned from the course content into their local communities. During the 2020-2021 school year, 17 teachers piloted this course. Teachers saw students design projects like:

  • students in the western part of the state working with decedents of an all-black community created after the Civil War to develop a website to educate the public about this lost history;
  • students writing a children’s book that incorporates what they learned centered around the topic: What is Freedom?; and
  • students working with Fort Monroe, a ‘site of memory’ with UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) slave route project, where the first enslaved Africans in the U.S. landed in 1619 and presenting at the UN’s “12th Annual Global Student Conference,” where over 500 students from 30 countries will attend. The theme is “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice.”

The teachers of this content have provided feedback, raving about the online modules. Comments from teachers include:

“The online modules gave my students an opportunity to work at their own pace, see history differently, and make connections to the content in their required courses.”

‘My students LOVED the online modules. The interactivity kept them engaged, they loved the videos, the projects, and even the assessments!”

“The online modules were beautiful. Very well put together. The discussions we had were very engaging because of what they were reading, seeing and experiencing. There was so much content for us to explore.”

This summer, the VDOE will distribute the online modules to all Virginia school divisions through Virtual Virginia’s online learning platform. WHRO is proud to have partnered with these organizations to bring the African American History course to students and teachers across the Commonwealth of Virginia.