By Caitlyn Freeman
Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) held a community workshop at Chesapeake Bay Middle School on Wednesday, January 30th to address the racially based incidents that have occurred at both Chesapeake Senior High School and Chesapeake Bay Middle School.
The meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m., was held in the cafeteria and started with a presentation led by representatives from the community, Abundant Life Church, and Coming to the Table.
According to a handout given to attendees, Coming to the Table is a national group whose mission is to “provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.”
A video, which was played during the presentation, provided testimonials from students who attend Chesapeake High School and have been affected by the racially driven acts. In the video, students explained times when they felt unsafe at school. They also discussed times when they faced racism at school and what it’s like to attend a school where they feel unwelcome.
“I’m okay when [students] say ‘I can’t figure out that physics problem. I Can’t conjugate that verb.’ I’m okay with that. I can’t live with ‘I don’t feel comfortable at my building,’” Arlotto said in response to the student testimonials given in the video.
According to Bob Mosier, Chief Communications Officer for AACPS, Chesapeake Bay Middle was purposely chosen by Dr. George Arlotto, Superintendent of AACPS, as the location of the first workshop due to the plethora of racially based incidents that have occurred in the area.
“I think it’s a conversation starter. It’s not an end all and be all. It’s not a solution. We’re not going to solve everything tonight. We might not solve anything tonight. But, the point of tonight is to get people talking,” Mosier said in regards to the event.
Alana Czarnecki, a senior at Chesapeake High who provided a testimonial, explained that she didn’t expect much from Wednesday’s event but hopes for change within the culture of the school.
“I do hope that a lot of parents and the staff who work higher up in the schools can see what the students are going through and I like the fact that we showed the video so that they can hear from our point of view, and they’re not just rumors this is really what’s going on,” Czarnecki said.
Leah Herard, another senior at Chesapeake High who spoke in the video, wants to help put an end to the acts of racism that continue to occur. Both Herard and Czarnecki are members of the Equity Team at their school. According to Herard, the goal of the club, which started last year, is to increase the sense of community within the school.
“I’m not proud, I’m kind of upset, and that’s kind of where I stepped in as president of Equity now, like doing all these roles to make a change because I can’t have [racism] in my school, I can’t accept it,” Herard said.
After the presentation, the members of the community were directed to respond to the question “What is your reaction to what you heard?” and write their answers on pieces of paper posted around the room.
After writing their responses, they were directed to tables where moderators led conversations and collected input. The three questions asked were:
- What type of activities can the community hold to bring awareness to this issue?
- What partnerships need to be formed?
- After hearing what efforts the district is making in the areas of inclusion and acceptance, what other recommendations do you have?
Event attendees were encouraged to fill out a contact card in case the school system has questions about the input given. The school system then plans to take all the community input that was provided and put it online after going through it.
The workshop occurred one week after the Board of Education for Anne Arundel County Public Schools conducted a second hearing and continued deliberations on whether to make the Global Community Citizenship class, which was piloted at Arundel High School, a graduation requirement at all 12 public high schools in the county.
Herard said that she believes Chesapeake High would benefit from the class. She added that she was also a part of the student advisory team which discussed the possibility of making the course a graduation requirement.
“I think it will help with the ignorance. That would create an understanding and importance,” Herard said.
Dana Schallheim, a member of the board, spoke at last week’s meeting about her reservations towards the course. During the event, Shallheim stated she believes that with the right teachers, who have undergone proper training, the course would be successful. “If that doesn’t happen, it can set us back,” Schallheim said.
Julie Hummer, President of the board, believes that it takes different things to get people to get along with each other.
“The Global Citizenship class is going to be another tool for us to use and it’s going to be another way to get deeper into these topics and move forward,” said Hummer.