Women With Visions Unlimited is aiming to give children a more in-depth look at the history of their culture.
In February, the organization launched Genius School, free two-hour Saturday sessions taught twice a month at the Kings County Library. The goal of the program is to go further than local schools in teaching kids about the important people and events of African American culture.
“In doing research and looking at the education system, there’s a lot of African-American boys and girls that aren’t getting the proper education about their culture,” said WWVU Founder Paula Massey. “We want children to know who they are and what their history is.”
The sessions are made up of a mixture of lectures, videos as well as hands-on activities. The school is open to anyone from second grade and up, including adults who want to brush up on their history. The school is completely voluntary, with attendance fluctuating for each session.
Massey said that while many students know the most famous African-American figures like Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, they are unfamiliar with lesser-known names that still played integral roles in the history and development of the United States.
“African Americans have a rich history in this country that a lot of people don’t know about, and that’s a problem,” Massey said. “The curriculum is just not ethnically diverse enough. We’re teaching history in the truest sense.”
Besides history, the sessions also include discussions on current local and national events, such as the controversy surrounding the Michael Brown shooting in Missouri, and how they have impacted the culture.
“We want to educate them about what is going on around them and get them involved in the community,” she said. “We always bring the history back around.”
Genius School isn’t just about teaching about African-American culture, however. Massey said she intends for the school to eventually weave Hispanic and Asian history into the sessions, although she provided no specific timeline for when this would take place.
One change that is already being made is the addition of tutoring. While the sessions are usually two-hour blocks, Massey said they’re adding an extra hour for tutoring and homework help since the new school year is in full effect and the students have expressed that they need help.
So far, Massey said the school has received a positive response from students and parents. She believes part of it lies in the fact that it gives them an outlet.
“Students want to learn about their culture and have a place where they can talk about these things,” she said.
One such student is Siarra DeShazier, a senior at Hanford West High School. DeShazier decided to join Genius School in March after hearing about it through her participation in the Black Student Union club on campus.
“I love learning about my history,” she said. “It’s really interesting because they don’t teach us this stuff in school, so students have to find other ways to get this knowledge. Going to Genius School was the best opportunity for me to learn.”
DeShazier said she has really enjoyed the experience and is trying to convince her friends and fellow students to participate. She said she plans to stay in the school through graduation.
“I think it’s important for any black individual to know your history,” she said. “The school has given me all this extra knowledge that most African-American people don’t have at my age.”
Massey believes the Genius School is having a positive impact on all the students and hopes they will become inspired by what they learn like DeShazier has.
“I hope that they will become proud citizens and realize what they can do,” she said.