Priorities for Minorities


Karen McDaniel, Writer

Hispanic Heritage Month runs annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The question is, how many BFA students know this? Many schools, especially those with more diverse populations, celebrate months like these schoolwide, and typically incorporate them into their curriculum somehow. So, since BFA is not diverse, should it do the same?  

It’s no surprise that BFA is a white-majority school. According to Sam Sparkes from RoadSnacks, Vermont has the highest white population of all US states, with around 93.61% of people identifying as white (including non-Hispanic/Latino) as of 2017.

According to the Public School Review, public schools within Vermont collectively have a diversity score of 0.11, while the national average is significantly higher at 0.32. In their ranking of top 20 diverse public schools in the state, BFA does not make the list. This being the case, minority students often feel too out of place and unappreciated during their time at high school.

Black student Kiara Biggs (‘19) has wondered why the school hasn’t openly celebrated awareness months such as Black History Month, which is celebrated in February.

“Yes, [I have wondered this], but I also feel like I already have the answer to that. It’s because we lack diversity in the student population and not enough people are vocal about this and brush off things that affect minorities to the side in general at this school,” Biggs said.

So in a school with so many white students, does that make it more important to show appreciation for the accomplishments of minorities throughout history than for more diverse schools? Should BFA make this change?

“Most definitely,” Biggs said. “I think as the demographics of Saint Albans hopefully change a bit in the future and we try to accept more diversity within our school, it’s important to shed light on not only things like Black History Month but also trans awareness, Hispanic History Month and things like that.”

As a black student, Biggs feels that BFA could do more to help minorities within the school to feel better accepted and appreciated.

“I think being such a small percentage of the student population, there’s already a lot more we can do to make minority populations feel accepted. While AWOD is a good start, it’s not enough because it’s only made up of students who want to join, and they don’t make as many visits to advisories. They don’t reach as many students as should be reached,” Biggs said.  

There could be some opposition that would come if BFA were to make the change to celebrating awareness months schoolwide, and Biggs is aware of this.

“I think a lot of people here would take it personally, [saying things] like, ‘Why don’t we get our own white history month?’ and, ‘Why are we only focusing on this group?’ Schoolwide awareness would shed a lot of light on things that a lot of white people here aren’t necessarily exposed to,” Biggs said. “I think some potential backlash would come from a majority of the student population and possibly some teachers and parents.”

Biggs wants people who haven’t been exposed to many minorities or their issues need to understand what awareness months are for, and how BFA can improve on making this known throughout the school.

“Understand where we’re coming from. The purpose of these months is not to disclude other groups, but to uplift those that don’t have enough attention. I’d like to see BFA implement more things for students of marginalized groups,” Biggs said.

This issue might look different from a student’s perspective versus an administrator’s. Chris Mosca, BFA Principal, stated that while there would be many obstacles in the form of scheduling difficulties, no one would morally oppose.

“A lot of [obstacles would be] time away from class, scheduling matters, testing, and many others. We did a program on bias in spring 2016. We had to move state testing days, which was a big conflict we had to address…. We try to help understand what it’s like to be a minority student in a majority white school. Nobody I think philosophically opposes the idea, it’s really just planning,” Mosca said.

According to Mr. Mosca, BFA administration has thought about celebrating awareness months schoolwide.

“I know we’ve talked about [celebrating] Black History Month and they’re (administration) very conscious of trying to incorporate it into curriculum. I don’t know that we’ve been as intentional lining up with certain months. The curriculums (guidelines for VT public schools on equity awareness) are distributed from the state, so we don’t have much say in what we can do,” Mosca said.

While BFA hasn’t explicitly followed and celebrated awareness months, it has in the past done many programs to help bring awareness to various minority groups.

“We have done multiple programs to try to make kids aware [of] and appreciate the various differences that are a part of our community,” Mosca said. “We’ve done programs on race, sexuality, anti-bullying, women in the workplace, [among others]. We have a good history of engaging our students in programs like assemblies to appreciate diversity.”

Mosca believes personally that programs on equity are best done when they are student-led. Last school year, the workshops dealing with gun violence, racism, and other issues was organized by students, but was successful in bringing many speakers and taking the time for the whole school to learn about these issues.

“I think it would be really good if student groups organize [them], like last spring with the student-led workshops. I thought that was really powerful and takes hold better when it’s student-led,” Mosca said. “We did gender equity day two years ago and that was also student-led. I think it works best when kids take the lead, and sometimes we involve the teachers in our departments. If it’s historical we use the social studies department, and we always involve special educators if it’s about disabilities.”

Fortunately, clubs and groups within the school already exist to try to bring these issues and many others to attention.

“We really go out of our way to give [students] that voice. This also works best with partnership. We have AWOD, and they always do visits to classrooms Even pep-rallies are recognizing the exchange students. We get animated students creating and spreading school spirit. Student leadership groups are an important part of the process,” Mosca said.

What is the consensus for making all students feel they belong in the school?

We always want to make sure all kids are involved and included if it’s a way to make the school better for kids that feel marginalized. Everybody should feel part of the high school. I hope the things we do here accomplish that,” Mosca said.

Is it important for schools to appreciate diversity in the first place? According to the article Appreciating and Valuing Diversity by the NDT Research Center, it is important for teachers to encourage and promote diversity, and that it’s not just based on racial identity but also on those with disabilities, cultural background, religious beliefs and others.

“Teachers must provide students with an environment that is conducive to learning. If a student feels uncomfortable, unsafe, or not respected, then their chances of success in that class dramatically decrease,” according to the NDT.

One group that addresses the issue of diversity awareness is the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools, an organization of Vermont residents that believe diverse ethnic and social groups must be represented in the Vermont Education K-12 school systems. VT Ethnic Studies sources State Representative Kiah Morris on what motivated the organization to form.

“It is not enough to simply celebrate diversity of race, culture, gender, economics and ability, we must eliminate bias by nurturing school environments and rich educational experiences that challenge those same biases,” said Morris.

Amanda Garces of VT Ethnic Studies describes in depth the mission of the VCESES.

“The concept was brought to the attention of legislators by members of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools, and is motivated by the need to bring increased awareness to the voices and contributions of non-dominant social groups in Vermont schools, and by recurring incidents of racism and harassment. Vermont would follow Oregon as the second state to adopt K-12 ethnic and social equity standards,” said Garces.

With legislation potentially on the way to make VT schools more inclusive, how will this change BFA for the future? Hopefully we will see more students motivated to celebrate the differences we all share, and bring to light the issues surrounding the lives of minorities.