Group of students in classroom

Alyse Coleman is a third-year history teacher at Gainesville High School. She teaches World History, AP Government and Politics, and for the second year in a row, African American History. This elective course is growing every year. Last year, Coleman had 19 students, and this year her class nearly doubled with 30 students enrolled.

Coleman’s lesson plans are derived from state-mandated themes, but she also makes sure to ask her students what they want to learn about. Coleman talks with her students about identity, and what it means to be Black in today’s world. She educates them about kingdoms in Africa dating back to the early 1600’s and migration to the U.S. She also explores the Reconstruction Era, Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Movement, and recent current events. Sometimes the content taught in her class can be heavy and hard for students to process, so Coleman started incorporating journaling in her class. It gives her students space to be open, honest, and process their emotions.

Coleman is passionate about teaching her students and helping them retain the information they learn. She incorporates unique and fun teaching methods that keep students engaged through podcasting, video-making, and cooking.

During class, Coleman’s students create podcasts, where they have in-depth conversations about the topics they’re learning. While teaching on African kingdoms, Coleman focuses on the Kongo, Songhai, Asante, Ndogo, Mali, Zulu, and Axum. During this lesson, she has students create commercials explaining reasons to visit each kingdom.

Another assignment requires students to break up into teams and make traditional dishes from an African kingdom to share with the class. Before making the meals, students spend an entire class period researching plants and spices indigenous to their assigned kingdom and look up recipes they can make with these ingredients.

“This class really allows me to be creative. We do a lot of out-of-the box projects,” said Coleman.

Gainesville High junior, Osman Ibrahim, shared his thoughts on the course.

“Studying African American history at Gainesville High isn't just about learning the facts; it's about embracing the vibrant tapestry of my people's history,” he said. “Being able to enrich ourselves and know more about African American history not only allows me to learn in a class, but it's also the journey of discovery and empowerment. It's also great being able to see others who are not African American learn more and explore how enriching the culture is. It's also a big bonus having an amazing teacher like Ms. Coleman teach it to students who hopefully leave this class at the end of the year with greater knowledge.”

Coleman puts an emphasis on educating her students about local Black Americans making history. Change-makers like Maggie Walker, the first Black woman to own and charter a bank in the United States, are discussed. Walker’s Richmond home is deemed a national landmark, and Coleman hopes to take her students to visit the home. This home holds a special place in Coleman’s heart because this is also the place that ignited her love for teaching African American history. In 2019, Coleman interned with the National Park Service, where she was given the opportunity to help maintain Walker’s home. Walker’s story inspired her and sparked her passion to teach African American history.

Every year, Coleman and her class go on a field trip to the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C., where students get to put what they learned in class into perspective.

“I expected my students to go off with their friends to explore the museum. Instead, they stayed by my side and asked me questions about the exhibits. I love seeing my students make connections. The moment that a light bulb goes off in their heads, it gets me every time. They’re so zoned into what they learn in class, and it’s the coolest thing to witness,” she said.

By the end of the year, this elective course is transformed into a tight-knit community with new friendships and strong bonds formed.