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story.lead_photo.caption A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

FORT SMITH -- The Fort Smith School District will offer African American History as an elective course for grades 10-12 in the coming 2020-21 school year.

The School Board approved the adoption of recommended instructional materials Monday.

A summary in the board packet stated that a committee consisting of seven people, including educators, administrators, a school district student and parent, and Fort Smith Mayor George McGill, met to discuss current standards and available resources in response to interest from students, staff and the community.

The district, based on the committee's recommendation, will use Newsela, a company that gathers news articles and primary sources for classroom use. The company will build a custom curriculum that is accessible online, according to the abstract in the board packet.

Ginni McDonald, the school district's director of secondary education and a committee member, said the first thing the group did was begin with a framework through the Arkansas Department of Education.

The chairman of the committee, Tony Jones, said one of the members brought up that the district's high school students are, in general, going through an identity crisis, in particular its Black students.

"And we feel like offering a course that is presented that illustrates their unique history will give them an opportunity to have some content that they can relate to, as well as take some self-pride in what it is that their ancestors [have] contributed to American history," Jones said.

The committee also noted that this course is important for both Black and non-Black students, Jones said.

"The goal of education, as we see it, is to, at the end of the day, form a more perfect union," Jones said. "And right now, there's a lot of social unrest going on in the country, and we believe that a course like this would bridge the gap of misunderstanding that is occurring all over the United States."

Jones said another point of discussion was utilizing the resources available in Fort Smith by illustrating the historical contributions and accomplishments of local Blacks in an effort to "make history come alive." This includes McGill, who is the first Black mayor of the city.

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