Dressing up History

In a world full of distractions, keeping a child’s attention can be a challenge, but there’s a teacher who’s found a creative way to teach, by taking her class back-in-time. Every school day in February, during Black History Month, first grade teacher LaToya McGriff dresses up like a famous African-American historical figure and highlights their significant contributions to society.

She’s worn a tutu to represent ballerina Misty Copeland, and boxing gloves to represent Muhammed Ali’s daughter, Laila Ali. She’s also donned judge’s robes to honor Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, and scrubs and a stethoscope for surgeon L.D. Britt. Other costumes include former President Barack Obama, tennis player Arthur Ashe, singer Ella Fitzgerald and inventor Booker T. Washington.

McGriff says her students look forward to who she’ll become each day, and sometimes even stop her in the hall with facts they’ve learned on their own. Bringing history alive like this, keeps her students curious and asking questions, and she’s hoping it will give them the confidence to know, that just like these historic figures, they can be great as well.

“It is important for the children to see that people who look like them have made contributions because it reassures them that they can, too.” “It’s hard to believe in something you don’t see.” She says.

Located in southern Virginia, McGriff also costumes as historical black figures local to her state. Her favorite, is Mary Jackson, a NASA mathematician during the 1950s, whose life story was featured in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures”.

McGriff wants to inspire more than just the people in her community, so she also posts her special outfits on social media, being sure to explain each character’s contributions. In doing so, she hopes to spark other teachers and even students to dress up, and take an active part, in the fun of learning.