Spain Park students learn about African conflict

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

HOOVER — With the help of dedicated world history teachers, Spain Park’s ninth graders are learning just as much about the present as they are about the past.

Students in ninth grade world history courses learn about 19th and early 20th century European imperialism and colonialism and its effect on Africa.

However, sometimes those lessons were lost on the students — which meant world history teachers Marty Smisson and Libby Day, along with librarian Marnie Utz, needed to find another way to make history come alive.

“They see Africa on TV and they think it’s all lions and tigers,” Day said.

The three brainstormed various activities, such as bringing in African natives who live in the Hoover community to speak to the students. They also had students listen to the Kanye West song, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” view videos of African children mining diamonds and see photos and documents about the diamond mines.

The students will also read the book, “A Long Way Gone,” Ishmael Beah’s account of his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.

Smisson said the conflict was more real to the students after hearing speakers.

“Having people who actually were there makes it more real to the kids than just something they read in their textbooks,” Smisson said. “We follow the Alabama course of study and colonialism is part of that. We just take it a little further.”

Day said the students learn more about Hoover when learning about Africa.

“Hoover has such a diverse population and there are so many languages spoken,” Day said. “Every year we have more students from Africa and other places. This is to touch on the multiple cultures within our school.”

Some students also learn more about themselves through the lessons, Day said.

“It’s Black History Month, and for our African-American students, it gives them an interesting perspective because we do spend so much time talking about Europe,” she said.

Smisson said the students will also be part of similar activities about Asia.

“Industrialization, imperialism, World War I — we’re trying to get (the students) to make the connection that these are not isolated incidents,” Smisson said.