James Mars Day: A Student Chronicle of Real History | Clarence Nurse | 4 Min Read

I wasn’t happy with my school experience in New York City. I wanted more. This class at the Salisbury School (CT) has not only given me more but has also exceeded my wildest expectations about how enjoyable meaningful learning can be. It is now year two, and the course has shown no signs of losing momentum. 

A class where all students earn an “A+” might sound suspicious to someone on the outside, but after seeing what we have been able to produce, a better question would likely be “can students earn a higher grade than A+?” 

For example, if I were to Google “James Mars Day.” I would immediately see: 

“May 1st: Salisbury — May 1 has been decreed James Mars Day, and a Witness Stone will be placed to mark the state’s proclamation of the recognition. Apr 26, 2021” 

Google more, and you will find newspaper articles about the day, a highlight reel we produced, as well as a timeline of James Mars’s life. These are all simply a result of the drive that my classmates and I have experienced in doing meaningful work that we enjoy. A grade attached to this work misses the point entirely.

Now the backstory. In the middle of our Covid school year, I heard about a new project-based class offering where we would investigate stories of local Black families and document them. It sounded cool, so I was on board. When we began the following September, our teacher asked us to name 10 important Black people who lived before 1950. Embarrassingly, we struggled to name five, so for the next few weeks, we explored our nation’s past to examine U.S. history from a Black perspective. We next chose topics of interest, split into groups, and got to work. 

I paired with a classmate, and our first topic was examining the 18th and 19th-century connections between Haiti and Connecticut. Our vision was to search for traces of the Haitian community in the state and create a podcast to share what we learned. We found this research exceedingly difficult. There is not much out there, and we were unable to connect with people or organizations who might have been able to guide us. At the end of the first trimester, all we ended up with was a PowerPoint about a family who came to Connecticut from Haiti and enrolled…

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