ASAP shares their voice

Junior+Tiye%E2%80%99+Hyler%2C+senior+TJ+Fleming%2C+guidance+counselor+Jen+Skalski+and+freshman+Brian+Campbell+sit+and+listen+to+students+talk+during+a+restorative+circle.+In+the+library%2C+African+American+students+discuss+with+teachers+and+others+about+what+it+is+like+to+be+a+black+student+at+a+predominantly+white+school.+%E2%80%9CIt+can+be+tricky+because+you+don%E2%80%99t+want+to+offend+anyone%2C+you+want+everyone+to+understand+that+you+come+with+a+good+heart+and+your+goal+is+to+help+them+succeed%2C%E2%80%9D+Perez+said.++

Bri Davis

Junior Tiye’ Hyler, senior TJ Fleming, guidance counselor Jen Skalski and freshman Brian Campbell sit and listen to students talk during a restorative circle. In the library, African American students discuss with teachers and others about what it is like to be a black student at a predominantly white school. “It can be tricky because you don’t want to offend anyone, you want everyone to understand that you come with a good heart and your goal is to help them succeed,” Perez said.

Inside the library, African American students sit, chatting amongst each other. Soon, they are told by the student officers of the African American Student Achievement Program (ASAP) that they will be able to express how they feel about their place at school through a writing activity called, “What I Wish My Teachers and Students Knew.”

Before beginning the writing activity, students and sponsors participated in a restorative circle.

In the restorative circles, we sit down with one another and express some of our feelings towards each other, towards the subject [that we are talking about] and anything like that to be able to come to an understanding,” walking counselor Melvin Bethany said.

Bethany feels that it is important for ASAP to focus specifically on empowering African American students in a predominantly white school.

“With this battle that we have in this country, dealing with racial biases and racial split, none of that ever gets solved with anger. You have to do it in a professional way as best as possible, you have to teach it,” Bethany said.

At this meeting, not only were African American students able to express themselves, but teachers also participated in the circle. 

“You would think that maybe my role would be filled with a person of color, and I understand where that comes from. My background may not match with a lot of other students. I am just there hopefully to be supportive and to learn a lot,” science teacher Paul Hage said. 

Through the writing activity, ASAP students shared with others what it is like to be black at a predominantly white school and how that affects them in academics, sports and outside of school. 

“I want [my teachers] to know that I am very independent, and I like to do stuff on my own. I like doing my work alone because I can listen to music, and I can focus better. It helps me do better,” sophomore Justin Willis said.

The goal of the “What I Wish My Teachers and Students knew” activity was to leave a positive impact on the ASAP students participating while also educating teachers who are reading the messages on ways they can make a change.

“I want [teachers] to be able to remove themselves and put themselves in [ASAP students] shoes. I really want [teachers] to be open-minded, to take heed to what [ASAP students] are truly trying to say,” Bethany said. 

ASAP students were not able to finish the “What I Wish My Teachers and Students knew” activity because of time constraints so it became an outside activity for students to finish on their own.

“We plan on getting these out to teachers before winter break, we have gotten more letters after giving students more time to work on them,” Bethany said.

ASAP students, as well as sponsors, want people at school to know that the program is more than what people may see through the windows of the library.

“I want everyone to know that in ASAP, we celebrate difference. We’re not trying to make it seem like there is no difference; we’re trying to say that difference is not bad and that people bring a lot of gifts and talents to the table. If [teachers aren’t] paying attention, they’re really going to miss out,” Special Education Teacher Lauren Perez said.