Jones High AA History-The Orlando Times
Jones High: Making History, Teaching History
Jones High School Brings An African-American History Course Back To Their Campus
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORLANDO - Identity, Black-culture, and the African-American lens are concepts that have the power to change a person’s view of themselves and their community. At Jones High School, instructors and administrators are using an African-American History Course to help students come to a better appreciation of where they come from and how they can make an impact on their culture.
“There are a lot of negative images of teenagers out there, of African-Americans out there, so for [students] to see representations of literature and texts that are from African-Americans…I think is really important for themselves and for our community,” said Jones High School Principal Allison Kirby.
This initiative comes as no surprise, as Jones High School itself has played a key role in Orlando’s history, even more so for the African-American community.
In a brief history according to the Jones High School Historical Society, it was first admitted to the Orlando County Public School Board in the 1880s as the Orlando Colored Academy. All Black students in the county who wanted to go to high school went there.
The Orange County School Board later doubled the size of the school which was then named Johnson Academy- in honor of former-principal Lymus Johnson. In 1912, L.C. Jones became principal and under his leadership, a new school was built in 1921 on the corner of Washington Street and Parramore Avenue. Because his family donated the land for the school, the school was once again renamed, this time to Jones High School. Currently, the school’s population is over 90 percent African-American.
“I’ve had numerous students say African American History is their favorite class. I’m just really proud of the work [the teachers] are doing,” said Principal Kirby. “I think it’s going to change the whole culture of the school.”
This is the second year in a row that the course has been offered at Jones High, since 2012. At the end of the last school year, Jones’ principal and teachers were looking for ways to engage their students in their own culture. Since their student population has recently grown to nearly 1,600 and their zoned area has expanded, they thought the class would ensure that the kids who are coming to Jones know the history.
The course helps students understand and have an appreciation for their heritage and lineage. While teachers say many students are familiar with slavery, they want to show them that African-American history is so much more than that.
The 11 classes of students who take the course start the first week learning about Jones High School- understanding the history of the school and how they fit in. The curriculum then begins in Africa and looks at the decades through the “African-American Lens”, while discussing and understanding what that term means.
“We want them to understand that they come from a heritage of Kings and Queens and Pharaohs. They did not start off as slaves,” said Donique Rolle, who has taught for 14 years and currently teaches the course. “To show them that African-American history is American history, and that their ancestors have pretty much built this country, that’s something they need to be proud of.”
The full year course counts as a social studies credit and students need 3 social studies credits to graduate. Jones High enrolls most of their freshmen in the course, and a second year of course is available.
“Our focus [is] for students to have an identity on campus,” said Mishaela Ellington, who teaches the course. “To challenge them to look beyond, to see what influence they can make; not only for themselves or Jones High School but for Black culture in general and the world.”
Ellington majored in English and minored in Nonprofit Organizational Leadership at UF. The teacher of 7 years, also enrolled in various African-American courses and participated in many Black clubs on UF’s campus.
“My favorite part is the kids’ faces when they realize something they didn’t know,” said Ellington. “We are able to present content that they enjoy, and they go home and talk about it with their parents and it’s rewarding for me.
The course’s teachers plan on introducing art assignments that will incorporate Africa and African-American culture, in the near future.
“Out of the 14 years [I’ve been teaching], I feel like this is the first time students are hanging on to my every word and they look forward to hearing what’s coming next,” said Rolle, who majored in History and minored in African-American studies at UCF. “It’s a beautiful thing, I love the fact that they love learning about who they are and where they came from.”
OCPS has two other high schools that offer the course, Evans High School and East River High School. Osceola County Schools does not offer the course. Lake County School’s Mount Dora High School offers the course. At the time of publication, Seminole County Public Schools did not respond.
To help students get a more in-depth experience with the course, Jones High instructors are raising funds to get the students ancestry DNA tests and to take the students on cultural field trips. If you would like to donate visit http://bit.ly/joneshsfund. Additionally, community members who have historical information that they are interested in sharing with the class are invited to reach out to the school.
“It’s about having that self-love,” said Ellington. “If you love yourself and you love where you come from, the choices you make will be completely different- the way that you think changes completely.”