Lunch and Learn
February 25, 2016
Students and administrators meet in weekly “Lunch and Learn” session to discuss race and inequality
As part of the administration’s new push for more action around race and racism at the high school, a new faculty and student “Lunch and Learn” series was formed to implement action plans around inequality and equity.
The “Lunch and Learn” series will be sponsored by a different department or program every week in order to get student feedback on curriculum, practices and ideas for school improvement. The lunch is held in a different location every week. On Feb. 3 the weekly lunch was held in room 384 and was offered as an open discussion of what the high school can do, in general, to be more equitable and inclusive. Anyone can drop into these lunches.
On Wednesday, over the course of two lunches over 20 students met with Headmaster Deborah Holman, Interim Superintendent Joe Connelly, Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Jennifer Fischer Mueller, Dean Anthony Meyer, Dean Scott Butchart, Associate Dean Melanee Alexander, Associate Dean Alexia Thomas, Associate Dean Lisa Redding and students from every grade level.
The first initiative discussed was a high school website dedicated to diversity and race-related upcoming events.This webpage is linked to on the high school’s main website where students and faculty alike can go to look at race-related events and initiatives.
Several students of color voiced their experiences with being treated unfairly by teachers. Students proposed a clearer system for discriminatory. Students urged that complaints be dealt with by an agreed upon deadline.
Final items discussed were two proposals regarding hiring more teachers of color and changing the title of Headmaster to Principal. The first proposal discussed students of color being involved in the diversity hiring practices. According to Holman, the curriculum coordinators agreed to this proposal at an administrator’s meeting.
The proposal to change the title of Headmaster to Principal was agreed upon by those in the room. The proposal will now go to faculty for reactions, then to the superintendent’s office, and eventually to the school committee for approval or disapproval.
The next “Lunch and Learn” will take place on Feb. 10 and discuss the issue of equity and inclusiveness in math and science at the high school with a location to be announced.
Lunch and Learn series continues in the guidance deparment
Head Guidance Counselor Darby Neff-Verre began the Wednesday, Feb. 24 Lunch and Learn by proposing on focusing on feeling comfortable and creating a safe place for opinions to be expressed. The main point of the Guidance department’s Lunch and Learn session was to hear feedback from students on their experiences with guidance counselors and social workers. The main grievance of the meeting was the feeling that guidance counselors don’t do much, and that they needed to reach out more to students instead of vice versa.
There were around 25 people who attended the meeting, including nine students, guidance counselors, social workers, deans and other members of faculty as well. The meeting focused on ways in which issues of equity can and must be brought in front of guidance counselors even though they are not always present in the school.
There was a discussion on the responsibility placed on students themselves to solve issues of equality when a student brought up the fact that it wasn’t their “job,” it was the faculty’s responsibility to solve issues.
A different student disagreed, saying that if it were only the faculties job to solve these problems, it would be as if these school interactions were only by the teachers, when in reality there is stereotyping and segregation between friend groups.
“It is the institution’s job to fix the institution, but we as students are part of that institution,” the student said.
Another grievance that pertained to this issue was the fact that students don’t understand the school bureaucracy, so it is hard for students to come up with solutions.
The meeting ended with Neff-Veere reminding students that they should go to their guidance counselors, because they don’t know when there is a problem unless there is communication.
The meeting went over time when junior Maya Morris recommended that guidance counselors should try harder to connect with their students and to earn their trust and respect instead of just expecting it. Next week lunch and learn will feature the history and special education departments.
Lunch and Learn: Social Studies department
The social studies department hosted a lunch and learn in the MLK room during second lunch on March 2. Gary Shiffman led the conversation as Curriculum Coordinator of the social studies department. 23 people attended the lunch and learn, nine of which were staff, the rest students.
Dean Scott Butchart, who along with Dean Anthony Meyer (also in attendance) organize all the lunch and learns, initiated a round of introductions where students also added why they had come to the meeting. Many of the answers were similar, the history department is lacking in connecting history to the present and many minority groups are still being taught through stereotypes.
The first question, directed towards the members of the history department, was asked by senior Donnaya Brown, “where do you think the history department is lacking concerning equity?”
Teacher Malcolm Cawthorne answered, saying that especially in 9th grade, it is very easy to teach the entire curriculum never being explicit about race, to keep the entire conversation intellectual and only talking about things as if they were from a long time ago.
Shiffman agreed, saying his 9th grade class never discussed a white person until January because he never put it in that frame. He agreed that the history department could do a better job teaching the past and bringing it to the present.
“We need to put conceptions, and how they change over time, in frame,” Shiffman said.
Junior Sophie Strassman used her Global Leadership class as an example when she denounced history classes for putting down countries by calling them “third world” and “developing.” She continued by saying that her class only taught about the poverty residing in India and never talked about the complexities of the culture. She believes this kind of teaching perpetuates stereotypes, is offensive and doesn’t reflect how people of that culture want to be received.
There were plenty of allegations against the history textbook used to teach 11th grade U.S. history. Many students agreed that the textbook revolved around the upper class white men and captors were awkwardly added on to the end about women and minorities, as an afterthought.
The most pressing demand that students had was to connect history with current events. Especially pertaining to race, students can be led to think that racism no longer exists because no ties are made between history and the present, according to junior Maya Morris.
Senior Hal Friedman added that history is taught removed from the experiences of people, and all that is being remembered is the number of years a dictator was in a certain country and how he was overthrown.
Brown said that she believes the history department is teaching racism wrong.
“They’re teaching it as a vantage in forms of race, and only talk about the civil rights movement, and black and white history when there are discussions about racism,” she said. “Racism affected many more people and cultures, most of whose history has been erased. Racism is not black people being hosed, it’s much bigger than that.”
Students believed that senior history electives such as Asian American history or African American studies shouldn’t be necessary because those cultures should be taught in regular curriculums. Another proposition is to create a more rigorous class centered around minorities, instead of a class such as AP Euro.
Overall students believed all parts of history should be celebrated, not only the difficult parts, history needs to be connected to current events and the conversations around race need to improve, and that there need to be follow up discussions after learning about traumatic events or ideas.