HIGH POINT, N.C. — The school called it an educational experience. A parent said it wasn’t a good way to teach students.
The one thing both agree on: It was a field trip.
When Colfax Elementary School’s fifth-grade class took a two-night field trip to Haw River State Park in April, it was supposed to be uneventful. The trip was to focus on science and ecological concepts, according to the school’s permission slip.
Parent Wanda Bray said something else was part of the itinerary which wasn’t listed — that her 11-year-old daughter Kylee and other students would be participating in a re-enactment of the Underground Railroad.
Bray said she found out after Kylee got home. Instead of talking about recycling and conservation, Bray heard her daughter talk about the night she was a slave.
“This is just not appropriate I don’t think for anyone to be carrying out,” Bray said.
Colfax Principal Michelle Thigpen said the field trip itinerary was discussed in detail — including the Underground Railroad re-enactment — on a special night at the school before the trip, but admitted that information was left off the permission slip.
Thigpen said that in the future the school would be “very explicit.”
On Friday, Kylee, with her Bray at her side in their High Point home, discussed the ordeal. Bray said she’d hoped to discourage school officials from the practice during a parents’ meeting earlier this week with Thigpen at Colfax.
That didn’t happen.
“Our overall objective is, of course, to get them to abandon the entire program because I don’t really see how it can be fruitful when you have kids doing something like this,” Bray said. “I learned very well what the Underground Railroad was about and I never once had to run through the woods at night to appreciate it.”
According to Kylee, students were gathered on the first night and told they were going to be runaway slaves.
They were given a brief history of the Underground Railroad and told that slaves were beaten or killed if they were caught running away.
Then, Kylee said, they were broken into groups and led to trails where “bounty hunters” hid in the darkness.
Tamika Jones, a fifth-grade teacher at Colfax, defended the exercise on Friday. Jones, an African American who has taught at Colfax for 18 years, has taken students to perform the Underground Railroad re-enactment at Haw River State Park since 2009.
Jones said this was the “first registered issue that has been brought to our attention.”
Jones added the activity was science-based in that the Underground Railroad used nature as a road map: which side of a tree moss grows on, which constellations are in the sky during the seasons and how to recognize the North Star among other things.
Jones stressed that the reenactment didn’t involve making the students act like slaves.
“As an African American teacher, I did not find it offensive,” Jones said. “I would never, in a million years, expose my students to something I thought was offensive.”
Bray, however, thought it was offensive.
“When you have one child who was adversely affected, then I think it’s time for you to pause and rethink it,” Bray said.
Credit: The Greensboro News & Record