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Cornelius News

Reflect on and celebrate Black History Month

Student artwork from Cornelius Elementary.

Feb. 21. By TL Bernthal. Learning about race and culture isn’t confined to Black History Month for Cornelius students.

While Black History Month is celebrated with programs and activities, local educators want all students to feel welcome and accepted, and a part of an inclusive school culture.

Black students, who comprise about 10 percent of the Hough High population, participate in morning student announcements, participate in a visual arts exhibit and performing arts presentations, hold a spirit week during February. Staff works year-round to increase the number of Hispanic and Black students in Advanced Placement classes. Separate groups of students, staff and parents work to ensure equity and opportunity, along with creating the culture for all to learn.


“Anything that makes any group of students feel welcome, I’m extremely supportive of,” says Hough Principal David Farley. None of these programs and task forces were in place when he became principal in 2021.

“Over the last 10 years, there has been more of an emphasis to have students highlight and take pride in themselves. We have had more diversity training, required by the district,” art educator Lauren Gibson at Cornelius Elementary says. “We have professional development that challenges and helps us understand racial bias.

“We as teachers are always reminded of the ways to celebrate student individuality and school diversity,” she says.

Start early


Cornelius Elementary embraces diversity and equity programs year-round, especially through the arts and music programs led by Gibson and Julian Lewis, respectively, says Principal Jessica Holbrook.

“Diversity is a very important theme to initiate in the beginning of the year with our students,” Gibson says.

“We reach all the different corners of our neighborhood and town,” she says. “Cornelius is a fast-growing community, and we soak in multiple races like a sponge.

“Every student has a story and background,” Gibson says. “We welcome the history of others with open arms.”

Art classes

Gibson starts her art lessons at the beginning of the school year with students identifying themselves. Every grade level illustrates, collages and documents a composition that records a student’s race, culture and ethnic background.

“I ask questions from what their favorite food is, what music they like, holidays to be celebrated, what family time looks like, skin color and even down to what kind of hair you categorize yourself in having,” she says. “Students connect to teachers by exploring what makes them human.”

Staff individualizes the students over the year, “because a healthy learning environment involves knowing your student population, relating to the whole child, and using their identity as a connection,” Gibson says. “What makes us who we are is a strong force.”

Cornelius Elementay arts and music instructors Lauren Gibson and Julian Lewis feel “diversity is a very important theme to initiate in the beginning of the year with our students.”

“I tell my students that I am bi-racial, with a white mother and Black father. I have tan skin and dark curly hair. My eyes look like my father’s, and my nose is definitely from my mother’s side. I illustrate these details in my art examples, and talk about them freely to help students understand I am proud to be who I am,” Gibson says.

Art supplies include paints, crayons and yarn, for example, that enable students to match their skin tone, eye and hair color.

Cornelius Elementary also hosts separate, school-wide Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month poster contests.

And music, too

Gibson and Lewis highlight the art and music history and background of different people famous for their art mediums, techniques, current day innovations, gallery exhibitions, performances, musical dedication and successful work.

This weekend

A two-hour program Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Cain Center for the Arts will feature choirs from local churches, a poet recitation, dance and 50th anniversary presentation for Smithville. The program will start at noon to 2 pm; it had not been determined by press time.

Also, works by John Robert “Trey” Miles III, a Charlottean collage artist influenced by Romare Bearden, will be shown at Town Hall and the Cain Center for the Arts during February.