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For Black History Month, Fairfax County students can help create historical markers

Historical marker sign for the Cartersville Baptist Church in Reston (staff photo by David Taube)

Gone are the days of history textbooks being the dominant source for grade schools.

Now, Fairfax County youth have the chance to help create historical markers that the county has been adding to the area since 1998.

The county government and Fairfax County Public Schools are looking for students from both public and private institutions, homeschool, and community groups to submit ideas for markers as part of their new Black/African American Experience initiative to collect stories showcasing the area’s diversity.

“We’re really excited just to give students an opportunity to think like historians,” Alicia Hunter, the FCPS K-12 social studies coordinator, said in a county TV program. “So it’s no longer just the memorization of dates and events and people but more so engaging in critical thinking, inquiry, research and also evaluating primary and secondary sources.”

Ramona Carroll, a program manager for the county’s Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS), noted that ideas could come from youth groups, such as a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, a classroom, or just one student, helping “elevate untold stories of African Americans in Fairfax County.”

Ideas can be submitted through March 31, and the county’s History Commission will review finalists.

The county launched the Black/African American Experience Project on Feb. 1, coinciding with the start of Black History Month. To support the historical markers contest, NCS is collecting residents’ oral histories, and FCPS is providing resources to support student research.

FCPS announced on July 16, 2021, that it had partnered with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to host the county’s first historical marker program.

“The inaugural program will focus on revealing the narratives and oral histories of our African American communities, whose rich history, culture, and accomplishments in the county, are underrepresented in our history books,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik and school board representative Karl Frisch said in a joint statement at the time.

They added that the county hopes to expand the program to include other communities in the future.

Students in Reston and Falls Church got statewide recognition last summer, when their proposals for highway markers commemorating local Asian and Pacific Islander history were among five winners of a Virginia contest.

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