My Pandemic Story: A Philly Teacher on Inspiring Kids During the Crisis

Keziah Ridgeway continued to teach her popular African American history class, even after the School District said remote learning should stop.

keziah ridgeway

Keziah Ridgeway teaches African American history.

Published as a part of the “This Is My Pandemic Story” article in the May issue of Philadelphia Magazine. Here, Keziah Ridgeway, teacher of African American history at Northeast High School, shares her experience. 

Teaching this class has become such a passion of mine that I couldn’t imagine stopping. A lot of the history has not been taught, so we have children who grow up thinking our history started at slavery. And you also have some non-black children thinking, “What have black people contributed to society?” So this course is really important.

On Monday, March 9th, I remember going to school and saying, “Look, I have been following this. If you have important things in your locker, you should take them home.” Thursday night, Governor Wolf announced mass closings in Montgomery County. A lot of our teachers are there, so our school was shut down. I woke up and posted on Facebook: If school shuts down indefinitely, I will continue to teach African American history for as long as the break stretches out.

Three or four hours later, the announcement came that school was shutting down for the next two weeks. The Facebook post started taking off. People were sharing and commenting: This is great! What are you going to do? How do we sign up?

The school district sent out an email saying that we had upgraded privileges for Google Meet. We can now record meetings, and we can have 250 people in our meetings. So, I was like, okay, I’m gonna use that. I made a flier, a YouTube channel, and a consent form. On Monday the 15th, we had our first class. It ended up being 100 students. They were from all over. Some of the biggest numbers came from Central High School, because Elizabeth Williams-Wesley, who teaches African American history there, shared it. We had 100-something kids in class consistently until Wednesday night, when the announcement came from the district to stop all virtual learning.

I remember feeling shocked and really upset. Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks’s kids had just signed up for the course. When I posted that we might have to stop, she immediately contacted Malika Savoy-Brooks and someone else in the school district. She was like, “Listen, this is different. Can she keep going?”

They said: As long as it’s not mandatory, she can continue to teach. So I did. The numbers dropped, definitely, but the kids that come consistently are amazing. I have kids from Springside Chestnut Hill, Central, Northeast, SLA, Swenson and out-of-state. We have so many kids from so many different backgrounds.

I don’t just teach the whole time. The kids chime in. They ask questions, they make comments, and they share what they know. I love the camaraderie that has developed between the kids. They treat it like it’s a real class. They’ll put funny comments in the chat box: The bell’s rung, packing up my bag. Hiding outside the door so Ms. Ridgeway doesn’t catch me.

Even when I log off, some of the kids still stick around, chatting. I think it’s helping them maintain a sense of normalcy in such a crazy time.

Published as part of the “This Is My Pandemic Story” feature in the May 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.