The National Council of Negro Women has named a 21-year D.C. public school teacher its outstanding educator in the mid-Atlantic region.
In a ceremony on Capitol Hill last Friday, Patricia Holt Braswell, 45, received the Excellence in Teaching Award for empowering students at Kelly Miller Junior High School in Northeast by teaching them African and Afro-American music, culture and history long before it became the educational trend in predominantly black school systems.
"Mrs. Braswell is, without question, one of the most dynamic, engaging candidates we had an opportunity to see," said Ramona Edelin, president of the National Urban Coalition and chairwoman of the panel of judges for the nationwide contest. "She focuses on involving the whole child in the learning process."
A native of Macon, Ga., Braswell came to Washington in the late 1960s to study music and education at Howard University. She began teaching in District elementary and junior high schools in 1969.
"Most black educators are faced with the challenge of improving and motivating our children," Braswell said. "I think this city is the ideal place to try to accomplish that sometimes insurmountable task."
At Kelly Miller, Braswell teaches music to all of the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students and directs the school's award-winning choir. In addition, she teaches humanities to all three grades in a model curriculum, unique in the District, which teaches African and African-American history through the visual and performing arts.
Black "art forms parallel African-American history," Braswell said. "Without those forms, we would not be able to impart our history to our students."
In Braswell's classroom, posters of great black musicians, such as Louis Armstrong hang on the wall next to pictures of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass.
And her students study slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights movement by learning the spirituals and blues that evolved in each era and by creating skits about black American heros with themselves in the starring roles. "Pride and the connection to their heritage can motivate them to feel good about themselves," Braswell said.
The approach stands out in an educational system that, although 91.7 percent black, has only recently started emphasizing African-American studies in a few pilot programs. Last spring, city school officials pledged to establish a citywide Afro-centric curriculum by the start of the 1992 school year.
"It's long overdue, and I'm happy to see it," Braswell said. "I was brought up within my culture, and I've never been able to get away from it.."
With the wave of a hand and the sound of a few notes on the worn-out piano in her classroom, she transformed a group of rowdy eighth- and ninth-graders Monday morning into a rapt choir whose 30 pairs of eyes fastened on hers. Then she conducted the impromptu practice by raising her eyebrows and bouncing her head while playing the piano.
Even the boys in trendy close-cropped fade haircuts and flashy jewelry stopped fidgeting.
"She might sound tough or look tough, but she's not. She's inspirational," said Rashad Rowe, 14, of Lincoln Heights. He said students relate to this stylish and energetic woman as a friend as well as a teacher. "One thing about Mrs. Braswell -- and everyone knows this -- she can dress," Rowe said with a grin. "Not just that she wins us awards and makes us the best choir in Washington, D.C., but she sure can dress."