When asked her African name, 7-year-old Kelly Townsend tossed her blond pig-tails and replied "Afua." Afua is the Akan work for Friday, the day blue-eyed Kelly was born.
Kelly, a third grader at Parkwood Elementary School in Kensington, and about 30 of her classmates, adopted African names when their social studies class studied Ghana last month.
Ghana is one area third graders focus on as they compare communities around the world. Soon they go on to Mexico and Japan. But the survey of Ghana is their first taste of black studies in the Montgomery County schools.
Black culture is a subject students return to in depth in junior high courses on Africa. Seventh graders have had the Africa course for several years. This year it is being introduced to sixth graders in a pilot program in 10 elementary schools around Montgomery County.
But as black history month opens, Montgomery blacks, still stinging from the school board decision last spring to drop a mandatory faculty course on race relations, find these elementary school social studies are the only courses focusing on blacks that county schools require children to take.
Slavery, reconstruction, the civil rights movement and other segments of black American history are now integrated into required U.S. history and government courses, school officials say.
An elective for high school seniors, "The Black Experience in America," first introduced in 1971, is still offered for half a credit in only four of the county's 21 high schools -- Richard Montgomery, Blair, Wheaton and Sherwood.
"No one signed up for it," explained a social studies teacher in another high school where the black experience course is no longer offered.
"There was a feeling that the course was for blacks so whites didn't sign up for it," said Judy Docca of the school system's human relations department. "A better way to teach black studies is to integrate them and show black contributions as they occur. It's appropriate to put blacks in the regular curriculum and not make them a side topic."
But Roscoe Nix, education specialist and vice-president of the Montgomery County NAACP, does not agree. Nix, a school board member from 1974 to 1978, claims integrating black history is "benign neglect."
"The capsule approach is superficial treatment," Nix said angrily during a telephone interview. He said black history had been overlooked for so long that schools should require all students to take a concentrated black course before weaving blacks into broader subjects.
"Of course if you make black studies an elective, students will do what most Americans do with blacks -- ignore them," Nix said. "Then it becomes expensive and expendable."
Richard Wilson, social studies coordinator for Montgomery County schools, believes separating minority achievements into a separate course is not healthy for minority children.
"It doesn't do any good for a child to see the history of your country as being different from you," he said. With enlightened materials and a different approach, Wilson claims all children are now receiving a more balanced view of the role blacks play in history and in present day American life.
"We have better trained people with better textbooks doing a better job integrating blacks, women and other minorities where they should have been all along," Wilson said.
Wilson flipped open some of the books that fill his office shelves. One history text features pictures of black soldiers in the Spanish-American War, 19th century black schools and black statesmen.
Jean Kandel, a social studies teacher at Wootton High School, explained, "We integrate every facet of black culture into our studies. Our course on contemporary issues has a unit on the civil rights movement. I'm teaching ninth graders about the first blacks in the Jamestown settlement. We teach them how blacks did not benefit by the Revolutionary War."
Students learn about problems blacks faced in the 1920s, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and its increasing strength, Kandel continued.
"We feel much more comfortable with this and we feel it is more meaningful this way," Kandel explained. "And we're sure kids are getting it."
"We've done a good job providing materials," Docca said. "Now we just have to make sure teachers use them."
In Olney's Sherwood High School, Lannie Seymour wheeled a cart loaded with books and films into his "Black Experience in America" classroom. Largely due to Seymour's reputation as a good teacher, students consistently sign up for the elective at Sherwood.
This semester nearly 20 students enrolled in the class; only two are white. The class will begin with slavery, Seymour explained, and move up to current black events. He likes to spend time examining the migration of blacks from the rural south to industrialized northern cities. But he finds students always fascinated by slavery.
"I think until we get down to writing a book that's all inclusive, we have to have this course," Seymour said.
"I took this course because I thought it would be interesting," said Albert Kreis, 17, who admits he feels a little odd being one of two whites in the class.
The course has a more personal meaning for 16-year-old Shirley Green.
"I feel it was important to know where we came from," she explained. "I think it will be a great help understanding what our ancestors had to go through and what we will have to go through to make it, to get to the top."