Dr. Dietra Trent of Halifax, former secretary of education, will serve on the commission on African American History Education. The commission is charged with reviewing Virginia’s history standards and the instructional practices, content and resources currently used to teach African American history in the commonwealth.

Governor Ralph Northam on Friday signed Executive Order Thirty-Nine, which establishes the commission, and he made the announcement speaking at the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing, a ceremony to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619.

“The full history of Virginia is complex, contradictory and often untold — and we must do a better job of making sure that every Virginia graduate enters adult life with an accurate and thorough understanding of our past, and the pivotal role that African Americans have played in building and perfecting our commonwealth,” said Northam.

“The important work of this commission will help ensure that Virginia’s standards of learning are inclusive of African American history and allow students to engage deeply, drawing connections between historic racial inequities and their continuous influence on our communities today.”

The Executive Order tasks the commission with issuing a report no later than July 1, 2020, with recommendations for improving the student experience, including but not limited to:

• Technical edits to and recommendations for enriched standards related to African American history;

• Broader considerations for the full history and social studies standards review process; and 

• Necessary professional development and instructional supports for all teachers to ensure culturally competent instruction.

The commonwealth first established its history and social science standards of learning in 1995. Since that time, the standards have been routinely updated based on feedback from practitioners, historians and stakeholders. The work of the commission will help inform the next history and social science standards review the state will undertake.

Additionally, the Virginia Department of Education will work with Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media and committees of history and social science public school educators, university historians and college professors to develop a new African American history course for high school students. Together, they will establish objectives and competencies to provide a foundation of knowledge and understanding of African American history. 

This new elective will be available to all students in the commonwealth virtually beginning in the fall of 2020. Its component digital parts will be accessible resources for students in numerous other history courses.