Virginia Educator Leverages Field Trips To Educate Black Students On State’s Historical Ties To American Slavery

African universities
African universities

A history teacher in Virginia recently took his class deeper by taking the class to where slavery began in the United States.

The Norfolk, Va., teacher took a group of 22 students to Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., where the first enslaved Africans arrived, with hopes of helping his students create a more meaningful connection to what they learned at school.

“When your school is 20 minutes from this historic place, it makes sense to take them there so they can see it and feel it. It makes a big difference,” Allison told NBC News.

Experiential Learning as a Foundation

Edwin Allison, described by NBC News as a “veteran history teacher,” took an Advanced Placement African American Studies class from Granby High School in Norfolk to the site of the first recorded slave ship entered the U.S. — then known the Americas, or “the colonies.”

The history teacher has a long resume of education, with more than 25 years at Granby. Known for his dedication to history and pouring into his students in unique ways, in 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Allison’s class.

Experiential learning seems to be part of Allison’s core teaching principles.

“Teaching is a blessing for me,” Allison told NBC News. “When kids come back 10, 15 years later and say ‘Mr. Allison, you were a part of my success,’ that’s powerful.”

On-Site of History

The group crossed the grounds of Fort Monroe where the first enslaved people arrived. One student described feelings of discomfort and surrealism upon arriving at the site.

Allison’s field trip increased the impact of lessons previously taught in this class. The students had previously talked about the generations of slavery and its impact on Black Americans.

The field trip, was controversial though, for some.

AP African American Studies focuses specifically on Black Americans, their struggles, and contributions to society, and more. The class’s existence had been muddled with disputes from the start of the idea. Many conservatives don’t believe the class should be offered at all.

And in Virginia, the state’s governor, who initially “ordered that the pilot program be reconsidered,” allowed it to continue to the schools.

Allison’s field trip was important, regardless of the present attacks on Black history in schools. He said that the site being so close to his close was something that his students should see.

Lasting Impact

For Alexander, the experience of standing at the site where generations of enslaved people had been brought against their will was eye-opening.

Other classmates noted feeling inspired and grateful to be who and where they are now.