Cherry Hill schools make African American studies a graduation requirement

A New Jersey school district became a pioneer during Black History Month.

Video Transcript

- A New Jersey school district is making history with its latest curriculum change. Soon, every student who graduates in Cherry Hill will be required to study African-American history. Action News Community Journalist Ashley Johnson has more on the groundbreaking vote that's getting national attention.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: The Cherry Hill School District became a pioneer this Black History Month. An historic vote Tuesday made the district the first in the state to require African-American studies as a mandatory course in order for high schoolers to graduate.

TINA PRUITT: It's not about color. It's about teaching the truth to the history.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: The president of the Cherry Hill African-American Civic Association and a mom of a Cherry Hill West sophomore.

TINA PRUITT: If Cherry Hill is a melting pot, we need to act accordingly. And the Black History has to be integrated into the school system.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: The Cherry Hill School District, serving more than 10,000 students, remains predominantly white with less than 10% of Black students. The district says the new requirement has been a long time coming.

JOSEPH MELOCHE: What has gone on in our country for hundreds of years has to stop. This is not something that just happened. There are systemic problems with race in the United States.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: The new African-American studies graduation requirement affects incoming freshmen in 2021 and going forward. The curriculum is in the development phase. It's a collaborative effort with Black professors from local universities, including Monmouth University and Rowan.

FARRAH MAHAN: When students of color and students who look like me walk into a classroom, that their counterparts are not looking at them from a marginalized or deficit perspective.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: The Cherry Hill school district acknowledged the vote was met with controversy. Some parents argued, why should a course on race be implemented when color shouldn't be an issue in 2021?

JOSEPH MELOCHE: The celebration of Black excellence and the Black History in the United States has to be taught through the Black experience.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: While some parents say this is a huge step, they say it's just the start for inclusiveness.

TINA PRUITT: Cultural proficiency training is necessary.

ASHLEY JOHNSON: The ultimate goal, teaching empathy and love for everyone. In Cherry Hill, Ashley Johnson, Channel 6 Action News.