SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Even though the call for artwork celebrating Black History Month at Pemetic Elementary School didn’t go out until mid-February, half-way through the month celebrating achievements by African Americans and recognizing their significant contributions in U.S. history, there was a specific reason the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) found it an important event to host.
“We’ve had a few issues with racism at the school,” said Elizabeth Cata-Holmes, a member of the PTO and mother to three bi-racial children. Looking for content her children could connect to, Cata-Holmes didn’t feel like there was a lot of education around Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Black History Month going on at the school.
“One of the reasons I joined the PTO,” said Alexandria Rockwell, also a mom of bi-racial children, “is it’s an outlet to be the change you want to see.”
In addition to the competition for students, the PTO organized a school-wide assembly on Tuesday to which they invited Dr. Kimberly Whitehead to speak. Whitehead is the chief of staff to University of Maine’s president, Joan Ferrini-Mundy. Awards were given to students who participated, and the assembly ended with students getting a chance to read books found by teachers Carol Null and Angela Paulson that featured characters of diversity.
Even though the window for submission of entries was small, 32 students researched and chose a historic or currently relevant African American to feature in their submitted project. Members of the panel of judges had a difficult time choosing from the students’ work, some of which had a strong emotional message.
“This has taken off even bigger than we anticipated,” said Cata-Holmes, whose son Jayden Cata, a sixth-grade student, won the grand prize in the competition for his piece, “From Slavery to Freedom.”
In an interview with some of the students who participated, they talked about Rosa Parks, Misty Copeland and Garrett Morgan and how they played an important role in American history. Artwork submitted was judged on originality, historical relevance, complexity of execution and clarity of message.
While speaking at the assembly, Rockwell said the contest has had a ripple effect. Parents in other schools around Mount Desert Island have said they want to see this same type of celebration at their school.
“This community is ready and willing to celebrate diversity,” said Rockwell after receiving lots of positive feedback about the event.