Hidden Figures Day at local high school celebrates women achievements

Jan 27, 2017

High school students continue to take a strong interest in social justice. Students at Nardin Academy High School in Buffalo attended a private screening of the film Hidden Figures, and WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley says after viewing the movie, students returned to their classrooms showcasing a day of celebrating and empowering women.   

Nardin held Hidden Figures Day for high school students.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Hidden Figures is based on a true story of African American women who were mathematicians at NASA in the 1950s and '60s. They were an integral part of Astronaut John Glenn's space flight on Apollo 11, calculating flight information at a time when they were not permitted to use the same restrooms as white coworkers.

Nardin High School students gathered for a variety of cross-curricular activities created by teachers and students celebrating the achievements of women.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

American History teacher Joanna Batt said the movie had many moments of female empowerment, pointing out a scene from the movie about segregated bathrooms. Students felt "those moments of female empowerment when she finally doesn’t have to walk a half a mile to the colored bathroom and Katherine Johnson can finally go to the bathroom where her desk is right nearby,” Batt said.

Batt wanted to blend the movie viewing into classroom lessons. After students returned from the Regal on Elmwood in Buffalo, they gathered for a variety of cross-curricular activities created by teachers and students celebrating the achievements of women.

“I think I’m very honest with them and I told them I didn’t know about these women until you approached me, and this is my content, this is what I love. It shows us how many wonderful stories there are to uncover and how many inspirations there are around us. We just need to talk about it and experience it together,” Batt explained.

You could feel the energy as students changed classes to participate in different learning sessions, fresh off their field trip to see the film. 

Schedule posted in a classroom for Hidden Figures Day.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“I heard about the movie previously before seeing the trailer shown in our homeroom classes and I found it intriguing to see anyway because I adore historical dramas,” said Isabella Jankowski, a senior at Nardin Academy.   

Jankowski said WBFO watching the moving was an eye-opening experience for her.

Nardin students watch movie trailers they created to honor women achievements.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“One part that really got me was when she was typing up the reports for her and her colleague, and her colleague was, of course, a white male who, of course, looked down upon her, which is something everyone is aware of that happened this time," Janokowski recalled. "But he specifically went up and told her to not put her name next to his.”

In Batt's classroom, students watched movie trailers they created featuring themes of racism and sexism of well-known women from past and present about overcoming barriers as females.

Students watched movie trailers they created to celebrate women.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Ellen DeGeneres and Misty Copeland, Michelle Obama,” Batt listed. 

Miranda Nemeth is also a Nardin senior.

“I personally never felt like there is something that I couldn’t do and I know my classmates haven’t really either, because here you are kind of taught you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to be a lawyer, you’re going to be in these high positions,” Nemeth remarked. 

Nemeth said she was fascinated to learn just how much African American women struggled in the workforce more than 50 years ago.

“It's weird to see because you hear about so much, but then you go and see it actually happening. You see like them experience the emotions. You just can’t picture accurately when you are reading about it and to see like the struggle and just how bad it was for them, just how people had to fight through and bit their tongue and not say anything – pick the moments – it’s just amazing to see after reading it all,” Nemeth said.  

Coming off last weekend’s powerful and massive women marches across the country, these young women say the feel confident to achieve without those barriers that once existed.

“I never knew about these women. They’re so big,” replied Nemeth. 

Hidden Figures
Credit Hidden Figures logo for movie

“And from the very beginning, we try to have lessons that have this message: social justice doesn’t care what color you are, it doesn’t care what religion you are, it doesn’t care who the president is at the moment, it doesn’t care what your sex is – this is something we need to be committed to all the time,” Batt explained.

“It makes me see how far we’ve come today. That only 50, 60 years ago, women couldn’t be engineers, scientists, mathematicians. They would be the only women in a male-dominated field and even then, they'd be would be looked down upon and now, even though there is some arguments about equality – it is a much more equal opportunity for every woman,” Janokowski noted.