A racial rant that went viral on social media prompted several walkout rallies at Howard County high schools this week. School administrators said they watched the protests at Mt. Hebron and Hammond High Schools and are responding to students' calls for a more inclusive learning environment.
“We want to work on collaborating as a group and moving the concept of student voice for equity and inclusion forward immediately,” said John Krownapple, the coordinator for cultural proficiency for Howard County Public Schools.
Team leaders from schools across the county gathered at Long Reach High School for a three-hour training on Friday that focused on ways to amplify student voices as well as facilitate conversations about diversity and race.
“We know we have a history in America where groups of students have been marginalized and those are the voices that need to be amplified for us to make the corrections, so that we can actually reach excellence with equity and education,” Krownapple said.
It’s an issue that's been echoed across the nation, and local students are asking school officials for a more inclusive curriculum, more diverse and representative leadership, and for teachers to be better equipped to discuss race.
“It's something that the country's gripping with and hopefully at least in our small way we can start to address it in our local communities and hopefully that spreads out,” said Brandon Garry, a special education teacher and instructional team leader at Mt. Hebron High School.
And these conversations aren’t just happening at the high school level.
Other Howard County school administrators are already addressing student voice in all grade levels. Andrea Harmon, an assistant principal at Murray Hill Middle School said they surveyed their students to get an idea of whether they feel like they’re being heard. She added that they excelled in certain areas but concerns were also raised.
“Something as small as a greeting, a hello, a good morning, a how are you, that was really high for every student. In terms of concerns, students just want to be seen, they don't want to be ignored and they want to realize that 'you see me, you acknowledge me,'” she said.
The Student Voice for Equity and Inclusion training was originally scheduled for April, but Krownapple said they decided to move it up in response to the walkouts in order to accelerate conversations around these topics sooner.
And while no students were at the training today, because school was not in session, Krownapple said there are plans for a two-day conference this summer where staff and students will be in attendance and can present and participate.
“They're really a catalyst to some of the things going on right now, they're really moving us forward and I really believe they can be the agents of change that we as a staff even need,” said Lisa Viglotti, an ESOL teacher at Mt. Hebron High School.
A spokesperson for Howard County Public Schools said the four students involved in the creation and distribution of the Periscope video that sparked the rallies were disciplined according to the HCPSS Student Code of Conduct.