Barnstable students open doorways to Black history with inspired art contest

Students at Barnstable High and Barnstable Intermediate schools went head-to-head in February for the first Black History Month door decorating competition.

The contest started as a small celebration of Black History Month only at Barnstable High School and blossomed into a cross-district competition that encompasses both the intermediate and high schools.

“This year we decided to go all out,” said Krissie Williams, a social studies teacher at Barnstable High School and co-founder of the Barnstable Ally Group, which spearheaded the contest. “What the students have done with the doors is phenomenal.”

The Barnstable Ally Group was created to battle overt racism and microaggression and, through education, empower allies who will change the world, according to its website.

Students at Barnstable High and Barnstable Intermediate schools went head-to-head in February for the first Black History Month door decorating competition.

Students at Barnstable High and Barnstable Intermediate schools went head-to-head in February for the first Black History Month door decorating competition.

Tara Vargas-Wallace, founder of Amplify POC (People of Color) Cape Cod, a nonprofit that promotes Black- and POC-owned businesses across the Cape, served as a judge for the competition.

She spent an hour in each school, examining the decorated doors and taking in the work of the students, who were present during the judging.

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“I left feeling moved and inspired by the artistic and innovative talent of all of the different ideas,” she said.

Vargas-Wallace noted that each door’s theme often corresponded with the class that designed it. In the art hallway, doors could be seen with hand-drawn Black historical figures and Black cartoon characters; in the English hallway, doors highlighted Black authors and poets.

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Barnstable High School’s entrepreneurship program included a door with decorations that recognized the achievements of Black entrepreneurs — which stood out to Vargas-Wallace.

“That door was outstanding,” she said. “As the founder of Amplify POC Cape Cod, that was definitely in my wheelhouse. But all of the doors were beautiful.”

Michael Ferreira, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the Intermediate School and

co-founder of the Barnstable Ally Group, saw how the competition not only celebrated Black History Month but brought his students together in a way that had been interrupted by COVID-19.

Chadwick Boseman played the title character in "Black Panther," a mega-hit for Marvel Studios. AP Photo/Marvel Studios/Disney

Chadwick Boseman played the title character in “Black Panther,” a mega-hit for Marvel Studios. AP Photo/Marvel Studios/Disney

Dividing into three groups, his students focused their door on Chadwick Boseman, the late award-winning actor and playwright; Muhammad Ali, American boxer and activist, and Jeanette Epps, the first Black female astronaut to reside on the International Space Station.

His students even included interactive elements to their work, for example, a rocket ship that the judges could move around the door.

“With COVID, it’s been hard for students to participate in a regular classroom environment,” Ferreira said. “This was a great way to bring students together.”

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps

Williams echoed this.

“Being creative is very important to this generation,” she said. “Especially with COVID and the amount of screen time students have to do, it was great for them to get a break from the screen and be creative in that way. Give them crayons, pens and paper; have them cut and paste and really create something. It was very needed right now.”

The students in the winning classrooms will receive prizes for their work, but Ferreira acknowledged that the Barnstable Ally leadership team wanted to award prizes to teachers as well.

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“We wanted to make sure we included the teachers,” he said, “and give them something they could use for themselves.”

Businesses throughout Barnstable showed up for the competition, donating items from gift cards to flower arrangements.

Who won awards in the Black History Month door decorating competition?

From the intermediate school, the award for Most Creative went to Mrs. Sollows and Mrs. Barth’s advisory; Most Educational to Mrs. Cameron’s advisory; Most Inspiring to Mr. Sarney’s advisory; Unsung Heroes to Mrs. Contrino’s advisory, and most informative to Mrs. Fontaine’s advisory.

At the high school, the award for Most Creative went to Mrs. Hurter’s class; Most Educational to Ms. Scholes’ class; Most Inspiring to Ms. Maurice’s class; Unsung heroes to Mr. Miguel’s class, and most informational to Ms. Berical’s class.

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In the competition between the the two schools, Ms. Taylor’s advisory and Ms. Wnek’s advisory at the intermediate school won two out of three of the best door awards, with Mrs. Cattabriga’s class at the high school cinching the third.

On whether the event will become an annual tradition, Williams responded with an emphatic “definitely.”

Students at Barnstable High and Barnstable Intermediate schools went head-to-head in February for the first Black History Month door decorating competition.

Students at Barnstable High and Barnstable Intermediate schools went head-to-head in February for the first Black History Month door decorating competition.

“It’s a great time to celebrate Black History Month, but also to reflect, and the kids are learning at the same time,” she said.

Vargas-Wallace agreed, saying she hopes school districts throughout Cape Cod adopt a similar celebration in their classrooms.

“Being around their (the students’) energy was really uplifting,” she said. “I would love to see other schools emulate the energy of the competition.”

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Barnstable High, Intermediate schools’ Black History Month art contest

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