Photo by Natalie Adams
By Caitlyn Freeman
The Board of Education (BOE) for Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) passed a motion 8-0 on Wednesday, February 6th making the Global Community Citizenship class, which was piloted at Arundel High School, a countywide graduation requirement starting in the 2019-2020 school year.
According to an article from the Capital Gazette, in January of 2017, a petition circulated Arundel prompting students to join the “Kool Kids Klan,” a movement that promoted white supremacy. The petition was signed by two students and a threatening tweet was posted a few days after the petition circulated by the handle @KoolkidsKlanKkk, although it was discovered that the account and the tweet were created by a 14-year-old African American student. After this incident, Principal Davenport set out to find ways to combat the racially-based issues that occurred.
“We developed the course at a time in our community where there was a lot of divisiveness, and this was one of our responses to that. We wanted to make sure that kids here found a connection to the Arundel community and learn to embrace diversity and appreciate each other,” Davenport said.
Davenport explained she petitioned the board in April of 2017 to be granted permission to create the course. Once she was given permission, she and a group of teachers created a curriculum for the course over the summer. The implementation of the class began in September of 2017. Since then, all incoming freshman have been placed into the course, and as of February 2019, 750 students have completed the course.
“All of our freshmen are taking the course. It was not a graduation requirement, but it was something that we did ask all freshmen to do, and they all complied,” Davenport said.
She went on to explain that students who are currently juniors will not be required to take the course before graduating in 2020. However, if an out-of-county student transfers in, they’ll be required to complete the class.
Davenport believes the course shouldn’t be taught only at Arundel and stated that she supports the countywide implementation. She added that the class has recieved a considerable amount of positive attention since it began two years ago.
Ms. Sinnott, an English teacher and one of the four teachers who teach the course at Arundel, also supports the new requirement.
“I’m thrilled. I’ve seen the class be really meaningful for my students. I enjoyed teaching it and I think the skills we’re reinforcing will be a great asset to the graduation requirement,” Sinnott said.
Despite the positive feedback, the course does not come without reservations from local community members as well as a few members of the BOE for AACPS.
As previously reported by The Pulse, during the voting process for the countywide implementation of the course on the February 6th meeting of the BOE, an amendment was presented that would make the class an optional elective at all of the high schools in the school system for the 2019-2020 school year in order to allow the board time to adjust the course.
During the public comment section of the board’s deliberation in regards to the posed amendment, many people stated their opposition for this and believed the course should become a requirement as soon as possible.
However, some attendees like Jennifer Dinmore, a parent of an Arundel student, explained that she was in support of this amendment because she believes the course is not without its issues.
“It’s not sunshine, it’s not roses, it’s not happiness, and it’s not changing things,” said Dinmore. She believes that students are apprehensive of stating their distaste for the class because of the fear of being judged. She also stated that she believes parents have been left in the dark in regards to the course.
Another question raised was how the class could be made a requirement if it is supposed to be tailored to the culture of each individual school. The concern was that the class would not be standardized.
After more deliberation about the amendment, the board voted 3-6, and the amendment failed. The board then began final reflections on the course. After another round of public comment and more discussion between the members of the board, a vote was held and the course became a graduation requirement at all 12 AACPS high schools.
Dinmore’s concerns are just a few that have been voiced by parents in the community. Some believe that the county shouldn’t be teaching their children about the issues laid out in the curriculum of the course.
A February 15th article published in the Capital Gazette reported a flier was circulated to parents of students of incoming freshman at South River High School protesting the course. The flier addressed to “Patriot Parents,” stated that the parents have the choice to keep their children out of the course.
“We do not agree with the radical leftist course mandate passed by the ‘gang of eight’ school board members that will politicize and dumb down the curriculum, brainwash and indoctrinate our kids to their agenda of globalism, anti-Americanism, and political correctness,” the flyer stated.
Some of the members of the BOE were concerned that the curriculum of the course was tailored to the needs of Arundel but not the needs of the other 11 high schools in the AACPS system.
“I don’t think that the course is necessarily about the problems. I think the course is about solutions. And I think that the solutions are global,” Davenport said in regards to this concern.
As Sinnott explained, the Signature office at Arundel is providing the 11 other high schools with the outline of the curriculum that has been used at Arundel for the course. However, each school is creating their own curriculum.
“The intention is that every signature program puts their own spin on it,” said Sinnott.
She went on to provide details on the curriculum of the course, which is taught using project-based learning. Sinnott stated that the students are presented with a topic or problem and they then work in small groups to research the issue and create a project or presentation. The class also includes a significant amount of seminar discussions, including “community circles.”
“It’s not so different than your average social studies class. It’s just maybe a bit more collaborative,” said Sinnott.
Another concern that has been voiced throughout the community is that if the class is required, students will not take it as seriously as they would if they chose to take it.
In regards to this concern, Davenport stated that she believes the structure of the course will allow it to be enjoyable and engaging regardless.
“I’m hoping that the requirement piece of it is not going to bring that energy level down and I’m hoping that the kids will still enjoy the experience because it’s really about the experience of the class,” said Davenport.
Sinnott, echoing Davenport’s beliefs, feels that the course will still be impactful for students.
“You can look at any of our graduation requirements, including English or any of our fine arts classes and they haven’t lost their touch just because they’re requirements,” Sinnott said.
She added that each principal would choose teachers that are qualified and passionate to teach the course, which will help instill excitement within the class.
Arundel is not the only school in the AACPS system that has seen issues with racism in recent years. Both Chesapeake Bay Middle School and Chesapeake Senior High School, located in Pasadena, has seen incidents of racism over the past several months.
AACPS held a community workshop on Wednesday, January 30th at Chesapeake Bay Middle in order to start a conversation about these issues and build a sense of community. According to Bob Mosier, Chief Communications Officer for AACPS, the school system plans to conduct more of these events and the information that is presented during them is recorded and analyzed by the system.
The Capital Gazette reported that a SnapChat that included a racial slur about the Annapolis High School basketball team was sent by a student from Broadneck High School after they lost to Annapolis on Monday, February 4th, only five days after the workshop at Chesapeake Bay Middle.
In a January 30th interview with The Pulse, Mosier stated that he believes the course is able to help combat the issues being faced within the school system.
“I strongly believe that because that class is all about conversations, right? It’s all about us, you and I, who may be complete strangers, getting to know a little bit about each other and we’ll have agreements and we’ll have differences but, where we disagree, we can disagree with out being disagreeable,” Mosier said.
The full outline of the course can be found online at http://www.aacps.org.