Staff continues culture conversation
District, site groups tackle tough questions after year of racial incidents
March 14, 2017
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The Roseville High School community has continued to grapple with racially charged incidents following staff’s efforts to open frank discussion about interpersonal understanding via three intervention period lessons in January.
Staff designed the lessons to embrace diversity, define racism on campus and encourage a culture of “upstanding” in response to several incidents with racist overtones in the fall.
Since the lessons, however, more incidents have cropped up. A vandal spray painted “KKK” and a swastika in red on the side of the band room in mid-February. Senior band student Amanda Lopes said the vandalism threatened the Tiger Band and reflects a bigger picture at the school.
“Having it put on the band room is definitely a sort of attack to us, because the band room is our home on campus,” Lopes said. “It’s our safe place. To have someone come and vandalize it – with anything that would be hurtful – but mostly because it was a swastika and “KKK”, that is not okay with us.”
The Moeller Maniacs Twitter account included the n-word in its promotion of varsity basketball’s senior night in early February. The student section account quickly deleted the tweet and issued an apology.
The RHS JV basketball team reported verbal abuse targeting its African-American players from some Ponderosa High School players after their game on Feb. 15. Athletic director Emily Dodds said administration has taken the necessary steps to address the specific incident, but continued efforts to improve athletic culture as a whole are necessary.
“Especially for the next year, we want to work on a positive atmosphere, even with our Tiger Cage,” Dodds said. “When you start to make it personal, or call out certain numbers or target specific people, that’s when it becomes personal, and that’s not okay.”
In light of these events, RHS principal David Byrd plans to continue to incorporate efforts that promote cultural awareness into RHS’ agenda.
Additionally, the theme for Roseville Joint Union High School District’s professional development day on April 17 focuses on equity and emotional intelligence.
RHS will host teachers, counselor staff, administrators among others in the district to discuss strategies for social and academic inclusion. District executive director of curriculum and instruction Suzanne Laughrea said an environment of respect among students is one of the highest necessities in education.
“You have basic needs that need to be met,” Laughrea said. “You need to make sure you feel safe and that you feel loved and that people respect you. If we can do that, and kids feel safe and that they are taken care of, they can perform at higher levels, and that’s what emotional intelligence is.”
English teacher Debbie Sidler agrees that the concept of emotional intelligence holds a strong role in every classroom. She believes that trust must be built with each student to ensure success and better behavior.
“It’s more of a relationship that you establish with that class so that they trust that what they say does has value and influence as well,” Sidler said.
Byrd also hopes to revamp the Visual and Performing Arts-International Festival by Spring 2018 to feature enhanced international displays and celebrations of culture, as with past years. Byrd and VAPA department coordinator Patricia Leong encourage students to take the festival’s values to heart.
“The festival really has that theme of ‘get out there and explore cultures that aren’t your own,’” Byrd said.
Leong said the celebration of culture in both the arts and academics is not only essential to high schools, but essential to long-term success.
“You are not growing up in a divided world,” Leong said. “You are growing up in this global world. So, you need to know what’s going on in different parts of the world through math and science and art and culture. The more you know about culture, the more you can relate to one another.”
RHS staff has also organized meetings during March for issues surrounding campus cultural understanding and to follow up on January’s three ROAR lessons. Sidler, assistant principal Anna Maria Clark, Black Student Union adviser Keshila Jones and student government teacher Brett Mattix are some of the staff members currently slated to attend the meetings.
During these meetings, staff may plan methods to continue to communicate the importance of celebrating diversity and what it means to be an upstander to both the students and the staff at RHS to improve campus culture. The team, following feedback from students and parents in the RHS community, may host a schoolwide summit to continue conversations about culture, equity and emotional intelligence, as well as establish a formal “Campus Culture Team” next year to continue its efforts. Byrd supports the potential steps.
“The very fundamental, significant, important direction we’re going in is saying ‘this is going to be a permanent, ongoing group that’s going to get together and talk about the campus culture.’ Campus culture being the whole place … the whole idea of our climate here, our culture, our vibe, our interactions.”
District superintendent Ron Severson took note of RHS-incidents as one point in a pattern across schools. The trend of overt hate incidents came as a form of a wake-up call.
“What I realized is that we’re not as alert of a system as we need to be, mostly because we have not had a lot of issues in our school and community,” Severson said. “We should give our full attention to it and do everything we can to make sure our students are at a safe place everyday.”
Severson urged staff to maintain a positive environment for students in a district-wide email in late February.
“Try as we might, our schools are not immune to the swirl of activity and emotion that has engulfed our country,” Severson said in the email. “We want our schools to be a bastion of safety and security, a place where students and staff feel safe and do not have to contend with hatred, bigotry, bullying or belittling. We all need to work together to ensure that we maintain that kind of culture.”