The perpetuation of Eurocentric norms and limited conversations about race in schools stems from a lack of diversity. This lack not only harms students of color, but the entire school and school system at a large. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained a lot of attention in the summer of 2020, Carrboro High School and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system have made efforts to be more conscious of race and inclusive of diversity.
One such effort was during Black History Month in February. Real Talk sessions focused on race at CHS and important milestones in Carrboro and North Carolina’s history. These sessions have been effective in having discussions about race and diversity.
“In the conversations I’ve had with adults who are facilitating Real Talks, some teachers are now finding that they feel confident and are getting ideas about how they could now work this into their own, normal classes,” said Jamie Fernandez-Schendt, Equity and Excellence Coordinator at CHS.
A major activity during the first semester that was facilitated through Real Talk was the reading of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a book aimed at educating teens on the history and continuation of racism and antiracism in the US.
“It became increasingly clear that the majority of our students and much of our staff did not have a foundational understanding of the history of racism in our country. That made discussing race and racism very challenging,” said Anna O’Connell, CHS Equity Chair, via email.
“I think it’s a great book in a lot of ways, but one of the things I think it does is it gives students who are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable talking about race and racism a language for doing that,” said Matt Cone, CHS social studies teacher.
Discussions about race and racism are also being made a priority on a larger scale, with the North Carolina Board of Education approving new social studies standards back in February of 2021. These new standards haven’t changed the content that is taught to students, rather changing the wording and language included in the standards. For example, the word “racism” had not been included in the social studies standards until this update.
Many were surprised at the lack of language surrounding race being included in the curriculum, but to many social studies teachers it didn’t come as a shock.
“We’re always trying to make people into ideal Americans, and even that notion of what it means to be American is heavily idealized, very Eurocentric, tends to erase really problematic moments. That’s the origin of our discipline, so you shouldn’t be that shocked when the discipline goes in that direction,” said Cone.
While many were hoping for more sweeping reforms of the standards, Fernandez-Schendt hopes that teachers continue to include important topics and conversations into their lessons, regardless of whether or not they are included in the standards.
“I hope that as a district we can continue to support teachers in ways that push them to make those choices or ask them to make those choices, and I know the district is doing that,” he said.
On a smaller scale, CHS has worked to build more inclusivity and diversity into its curriculum and faculty. The school has been more intentional about hiring more staff of color as well as creating a Building Anti-Racist White Educator’s group, which provides white teachers and staff members with resources and tools to more effectively incorporate discussions about race and resist their own interal biases. In addition to these changes, the school has restructured its code of conduct so that it focuses more on restoration instead of punishment. This restructure aims to address racial discipline disparities, according to O’Connell.
Other areas that have noticeable racial disparities are Advanced Placement, or AP, classrooms. AP enrollment typically sees an overwhelming majority of white students with only a few students of color feeling comfortable or qualified to take the course. At CHS, the AP summer camp introduces students who are taking AP courses during the next school year to content and skills necessary to excel in the course, skills that many students already have.
“The whole purpose behind [the camp] was to be able to close that gap, to be able to provide more reasons for students to feel comfortable taking those classes,” said Fernandez-Schendt.
Many reasons students of color don’t feel comfortable or prepared to take AP courses stems from earlier education, not only high school experiences.
“I would say definitely at a younger age, gifted education needs a big change in terms of encouraging students of color who don’t have parents advocating for them, because I know white parents usually have the time and the money to advocate for their kids to be put in advanced classes and students of color don’t,” said Julian Taylor, CHS senior and Black and Brown Student Coalition member.
Advocating for students of color is one of the Black and Brown Student Coalition, or BBSC’s main goals. The coalition has created a peer recommendation form for students, talked to students at Culbreth Middle School, and discussed race on their podcast. Recent quotes have been about the district’s decision to do a coin flip in order to determine the new member, ultimately choosing a white woman over a Latina woman.
“The district talks a lot about how they can improve equity at the highest levels and then they fail to capitalize on that a lot,” said Taylor.
BBSC has also met with Principal Rudolph and other faculty members to discuss issues that students of color face within the school.
“That’s where so much of our progress this year has been made, just them voicing things that we didn’t even know about,” said Fernandez-Schendt.
While much progress still needs to be made, this school year has seen an increase in conversations and progress surrounding race and diversity at CHS and throughout the CHCCS district.
“For me, that idea that we’re all educable, we can all get smarter, we can all get more insightful in terms of how we think about race, that’s really encouraging,” said Cone.