This Black History Month, administrators at Bridge Street Middle School are putting a new spin on the traditional in-school celebration. In conjunction with Ron Scott, Jr., Director of Cultural Diversity & Community Outreach for the YWCA of Wheeling, school leaders have planned a unique virtual event that will feature student presentations, as well as contribution from Black business owners, performers and speakers from throughout the Ohio Valley.
“Family Fun Night: Black History Month” took place on Tuesday, Feb. 23 and was open to all BSMS students and parents. Principal Jessica Broski-Birch said COVID-19 changed the way they planned the school’s Black History Month celebration this year.
“We had to work to find a way to create a virtual event to continue to take precautions during COVID-19, and it was imperative for us to find a way for our community to be involved,” said Broski-Birch.
The school has had a relationship with Scott and the YWCA since 2019 when he began supporting proactive training and education at BSMS on diversity and acceptance issues. Scott recently praised Broski-Birch for her commitment to innovation and outside-of-the-box thinking and noted the upcoming event as an example of those qualities.
Scott said this celebration is different from most because it includes a focus on local Black history, local Black artists and local Black-owned businesses.
“This a far cry from the usual focus on civil rights leaders and little-known inventors that we have grown accustomed,” said Scott. “This approach solidifies the idea that Black History is Our History by including people, places, and things that the students can see and experience in their everyday life.”
Scott helped Broski-Birch and other administrators curate a list of members of the local Black community that could contribute to the event. Jerry Moore, president of the Belmont County chapter of the NAACP is one speaker participating in the event.
Moore said, “This event fits perfectly with the mission of the NAACP, as we want to educate on the very rich Black History America has and we believe that this is the best way at understanding and learning from each other.”
Moore said he is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the event.
“I would like to thank the students, faculty and staff at Bridge Street Middle School for allowing me to participate in [their] Black History Month event,” he said. “As we say in Belmont County NAACP, ‘Keep Moving Forward’!”
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In addition to Moore, the event contributors also include Michael McIntyre, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP; local musician Ezra Hamilton; WV NAACP President Owens Brown; Janette Rideout of DL Clothing and Hair; Christopher Burress of Tito’s Sloppy Dogs; Chad Stradwick Sr. of Stradwick’s FadeCave; local visual artist Vondell Bell; John Devlin, Musical Director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra;and Chasdan Ross Mike, performer and Martins Ferry native.
BSMS Assistant Principal Karin Butyn said having community speakers and performers is an important piece of the event.
“I think that our community and students need to continue fostering meaningful connections,” said Butyn. “Black History is American History, and we are excited to involve our community and give our community a voice to our students.”
Over the course of the month of February, BSMS students have been working on Black History Month activities in their English language arts and reading classes, and some of those students will be presenting their class projects during the event. Sixth-grade students used web-based design tool Canva to create posters depicting the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Ala., inspired by their reading of The Watsons go to Birmingham.
Students in the seventh grade were asked to review the poem “The Hill We Climb,” recently read by author Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and create their own creative writing piece mirroring Gorman’s writing style. Eighth-grade students used technology tools to create research projects on famous Black authors, doctors, athletes, musicians and politicians.
Butyn said presenting the projects gives the students opportunities for personal growth.
“I hope our students continue to grow not only as students but as human beings,” said Butyn.
Broski-Birch expressed her gratitude for the local community, saying, “Our community members’ enthusiasm and willingness to unite for a good cause is an inspiration.”
She added. “The YWCA, the NAACP, local artists, musicians and businesses were excited to interact with our students and families, and we are beyond thrilled by this. Our local area has much to offer our youth, and we look forward to growing and empowering these relationships.”
• Wheeling native Jennifer Materkoski is a graduate of West Liberty University and Kent State University, where she earned a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Before beginning her current role as director of communications and employee engagement for a global business process outsourcing firm, Jennifer worked in local media and non-profit communications. She is a current board member of Generation Wheeling, also chairing the organization’s Work Committee. She lives in Wheeling with her husband, Rich, and her three children: Mason, Mercer and Miller.