Monticello Middle School celebrates women's history
Monticello Middle School celebrated Women’s History Month for the first time this past March, thanks to the efforts of Tiffany Underhile.“In 12 years of teaching, I’d never worked in a building that celebrated Women’s History Month,” said the school's math and science specialist. “I wanted to change that.”
Underhile began with feminist icon Rosie the Riveter when she had all staff members, male and female, don Rosie’s signature red bandana and denim shirt on a recent teacher professional day. Photos of the teachers were displayed in the front office and outside classroom doors.
Manana Robinson (eighth-grade language arts teacher), Future Educators of America (an afterschool club) and Underhile created displays throughout the school, including inspirational quotes by women, female scientists and mathematicians, and women in literature.
Underhile introduced the accomplishments of women during morning announcements and established three Spirit Days: one day students and staff wore pink, another day they wore sorority or women’s college gear, and the third day they dressed in white to honor the women’s suffrage movement.
The idea was to start small and grow next year, when Underhile hopes to invite guest speakers and establish a service project, for example, collecting used cell phones to donate to shelters for battered women.“That would engage the kids, help women and children, and protect the environment, all at once,” she explained.
Social studies teacher Matthew Minnillo saw Women’s History Month as an opportunity to enhance his American history instruction: “One of the biggest challenges we face as educators is how to take the curriculum the state gives us and tweak it so that students can make real connections between what they’re learning and what they’re living.”
Two of his eighth-grade students attended the Women’s March on Washington in January, and Minnillo asked them to create video diaries focusing on their expectations, what they experienced during the event, and on their reflections afterwards.
Zelda Thayer-Hansen said the experience and the assignment both had a powerful effect on her. She presented her video to her classmates, “not because I wanted to force my beliefs on them, but because I wanted to make them think." She explained, "I want them all to find something they care about and act on it—fight for it—whether it’s women’s rights or some other issue.”
Iman Isaacs also attended the march, which served as a bit of a political awakening for the her. “I was never really political before and actually felt a little wary beforehand," she said. "But it was so empowering to feel connected to millions of other people, even at the rest stops on the way to D.C. and on the subway. It’s nice to know that so many people share my beliefs.”
“Now I have more of an eye for when there’s inequality around me. Not just against women, but against anyone. I recognize it more often and hope that others in my school and community can learn from this too,” Isaacs said.
Eighth-grade student Josiah Jemison said he learned that “as people, we all depend on one another. We need to learn about the struggles that each group has been through so we can come together instead of separating ourselves.”
Jemison, who had just learned that there was, in fact, a Women’s History Month, said, “It does make me want to learn more about women and their role in our nation’s history.”
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher
Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at www.chuh.org.