By: Brianna Kalina
Life in the present is incomparable to how it was over a year ago. Our world has been battling a pandemic, political dismay, and economic troubles. Amongst this, recently, social injustices present in our country have come to light and are being voiced, as current events show. The social issues involving race, ethnicity, and religion, that have been undermined for years, are finally being addressed on a somewhat country-wide scale. In order to see real change, direct action needs to be taken within smaller communities. The Half Hollow Hills district understands its power in influencing and changing our community and is determined to take the necessary measures to make our community a safe and loving environment for all. To ensure proper action is taken, the district has been working closely with Natalie McGee, a nationally recognized educational facilitator. Half Hollow Hills is working alongside McGee in hopes of developing more inclusive practices throughout our schools. More important than administrators’ input in this process are the opinions of our students. Therefore, on March 2nd, Natalie McGee held a focus group conversation with a diverse sample of HHH high school students to better hear their voices and really get to know the environment of our schools.
The conversation was held simultaneously in person for the students in the building and on zoom for those at home. All the students were able to communicate clearly with one another and hear each other’s thoughts. Talking about equality and cultural proficiency is a topic some are very passionate about but also a topic that makes some uncomfortable; this was evident during the conversation. Right off the bat, a new goal we need to work on is making this topic something that does not make people uncomfortable. The hour-long meeting sparked several different conversations stemming from general questions McGee presented. At first, students went around sharing things they liked about our school community. Some of the things mentioned were Half Hollow’s many opportunities, great diversity, and course options. It was then time to bring up the negatives that many have observed through their experience at our schools. It was upsetting to hear those who shared stories where they felt unsafe and experienced direct prejudice. Another lengthy conversation went into cultural and racial stereotypes that are apparent in our schools and steps towards fixing them were shared as well. The curriculum at our school has flaws, and a discussion about this was very interesting and enlightening. Our opinions, actions, and knowledge of cultures stem from our education. It’s interesting to see that having a diverse curriculum is a key tool in making the proper change for our future community.
HHH is aware there have been instances where they have not handled situations correctly, and therefore, they have the responsibility to make changes for the future. As a participant in this focus group, I was in true awe at the way some of my peers spoke about issues they saw. I gave my input on major issues I have seen throughout my time in our district and was shocked at some of the stories the peers shared. All the students involved were extremely mature about everything, and despite anyone’s feelings, we all know this would only lead to positive change. We, as a whole, are thankful that Half Hollow Hills is taking these steps and working with Natalie McGee. I truly feel the change starts with the students, and it was amazing that the district realized this and met with a focus group. The first-hand experiences from our diverse student body are huge tools in understanding the type of action that needs to be taken.