No Race Relations Classes in Prince William County Schools

By Carmen Edwards

The Prince William County School System (PWCS) is the third most diverse school system in Virginia, but it offers no classes dedicated to race relations in the high schools.

County school data shows there isn’t an overwhelming majority when it comes to a student’s race in the high schools. Prince William County Schools are 21 percent Blacks; 32 percent Latino; and 33 percent white.

As the nation grapples with how to end racial strife, Prince William County schools may have found a way to engage students and make them consider the issues of race relations.

“If we were more open about discussing race issues in high school, we would be less likely to have the political confrontations that we’re having in society today,” said Catherine Hailey, a creative writing teacher at Woodbridge Senior High School.

Jeff Girvan, supervisor of History and Social Science for PWCS, said one program called the AP Capstone Course at Osbourn Park High School allows students to choose to research on race relations. The course will be offered next year at Woodbridge Senior and Patriot high schools.

The Cambridge Program, an international curriculum offers students a choice to research Black History, Girvan said. However, it’s only available at Brentsville District and Potomac high schools.

“The Prince William County social studies curriculum lays the factual groundwork…to discern and discuss the factual information so that they can understand an issue from multiple perspectives,” he said.

When asked about their thoughts on the amount of conversation about race relations, students gave varying answers. Many of the non-minority students seemed to find that there was little discussion about race in the school system, while majority students seem to find the opposite.

Lea Taylor, 16, a white high school sophomore at Hylton High School said, “We talk about national race issues in English and World History. We sometimes compare past events regarding race to things that are happening now.”

Other students have a different view.

Camille Edwards, 16, a black sophomore who also attends Hylton High said, “When I bring up race, none of the students are interested and the teachers seem uncomfortable.”

Renee Sardelli, 15, a white high school sophomore at Hylton High School states, “We’ve really discussed the trouble in Baltimore and everything for the past couple of months in English. It’s been really interesting getting to hear other people’s point of view on the topic.”

Lindsay Gonzalez, 15, a black sophomore at Woodbridge Senior High School said, “Race is not a big issue discussed in my classes.”

Betssy Lopez, 16, a Latina sophomore at Woodbridge Senior High School, reported that her classes portrayed racism as a thing of the past. “Whenever we talk about racism it’s only about slavery. It seemed like after Martin Luther King Jr, all [racial] issues disappeared.”

Opinion: Students Need More Sex Education

By Chloe Thompson

Payton Beach, a junior at Kent Island High School, took sex education her sophomore year, but said there was one thing missing — a discussion about sex.
“I haven’t learned anything in sex education…ever,” said Beach.

Beach’s experience is not a rarity.

According to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, 84 percent of American schools are spending the majority of their dedicated sexual education time teaching abstinence.

According to the organization Advocates for Youth, “No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, help youth decrease their number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens.”
Comprehensive sex education should encapsulate all factors that teenagers have to navigate while transitioning to adulthood, but fewer and fewer schools are working with it.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, how can you prevent getting (STIs)?” said Kent Island High School senior Matt Hoffman. In May, an outbreak of chlamydia occurred at Crane High School in western Texas. Twenty students contracted the STI. The school has three days of sex education each year, and the outbreak triggered a new Texas law in which the school board wants further teaching of abstinence-only education.

Abstinence-only sexual education is the main way most American public schools choose to educate their students. According to federal law, abstinence-only sexual education teaches, “that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity” and “that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society.”

This form of sexual education is frequently accused of being completely ignorant of LGBTQ teenagers, since the teachings only acknowledge cisgender, heterosexual relationships. Comprehensive sexual education is a more open policy, in which sexuality, masturbation, abortion and birth control are all discussed. Comprehensive teaches that, “sexuality is a natural, normal, healthy part of life.” No matter if a school district prefers one over the other, the statistics are straight-forward. Students who are taught abstinence-only sexual education are at a high risk of contracting a STI.

During the 80’s and 90’s, sexual education was usually taught with comprehensive policy, or as the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine calls it, “abstinence plus” education. The shift towards abstinence only has been very recent. Why the transition? American pop culture and media reflect a teenage lifestyle that is highly sexualized. Whether it be from the music they listen to or the clothes they wear, 21st Century teens are seen by adults as being rebellious or unruly.

“Our (all teens) parents think we do really crazy things.” says Kent Island High school junior Mallory Boyle. “They think everyone (teens) is always doing drugs, or having sex. That’s probably why they don’t want to teach us anything. They probably think teaching us about sex will make us want to go out and have a lot of sex.”

Teenagers need to know more about sexual identity, gender, sexual intercourse, and different forms of birth control. Without any knowledge of the aforementioned, America will create generations of sexually-uneducated individuals, which will in turn, lead to a lack in culture.

“I haven’t learned anything important in sex education,” said Kent Island High School junior Jackie Sproson. “I think learning about different kind of sexualities and different kinds of birth control would help everyone. I don’t see what abstinence sex ed is helping.”

In private schools, underrepresented minorities face unique difficulties

By Arman Azad

For many parents, independent schools provide an alternative to the public school system–an alternative in which small class sizes and hand-selected students have access to an ostensibly superior education. Yet, for many–especially in the affluent Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with its highly ranked schools–private education is an expensive proposition whose benefits remain unclear.

For Kara Frazier, a student at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, Maryland, being a minority in the predominantly white, wealthy private school democratic can be difficult.

“As a black girl in a primarily white school, I do sometimes feel ostracized due to my race,” said Frazier. “Because of the escalating racial tension in our society, we had a town hall back in November (after the Mike Brown indictment decision) to discuss police brutality and other issues our society is facing. After the town hall, lots of (white) parents and students were upset, and it was so evident. Lots of my white classmates started addressing me differently than they had in the past, and there was a clear racial divide in the school.”

Issues of diversity are not unique to private schools. In fact, a U.S. Education Department survey in 2012 from every U.S. school district found that public school students of color get more punishment and less access to veteran teachers than their white peers. Yet, at private schools, issues of diversity are often exacerbated in the context of a student body primarily composed of white, upper-class individuals, where those on financial aid or those in racial groups are often in the minority.

One student at Georgetown Day School, who preferred to be anonymous, said that issues of diversity are not necessarily a result of failure in school administration.

“I inherently feel different, but at Georgetown Day School (GDS) it’s not uncommon to be in the minority in multiple categories. I think the school does a good job of celebrating its diverse student body. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t run into problems about equity and inclusion. The student body is where we have the majority of the problems. A fair portion of the GDS High School is unaware of their privilege [and] they don’t know how to go about using their privilege to make positive change,” she said.

Further, the National Association of Independent schools (NAIS)–a group that consists of most private schools in the country–sponsors the Student Diversity Leadership Conference every year, where students discuss issues of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and other cultural identifiers. Even so, the NAIS reports that just 6.3 percent of students in their member schools are African American, despite the fact that 13.2 percent of the American population identifies as such, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nevertheless, at some schools, issues of diversity stem not just from other students, but from the administrations themselves.

“I’ve been at my school for 12 years and I have experienced discomfort due to my race countless times,” said Frazier. “A good number of those times involve teachers making ignorant statements, singling out me and other students of color, or just straight up making racist comments.”

And even in an environment in which she feels comfortable, Frazier still finds it difficult to ignore disparaging comments from those around her. “Because I’ve attended my school for so long, I’m extremely comfortable in that environment,” she said, “but recently it’s become increasingly difficult because of all the prejudice and ignorance. My school talks a lot about how important diversity is, but we are still very far from being inclusive. Our Student Diversity Leadership Council is not taken seriously, even by teachers.”

Despite the racial setbacks faced by independent schools, perhaps a greater class disparity exists between students receiving financial aid and those whose parents are able to fully fund their more than $30,000 yearly tuition.

NAIS reports that 22.5 percent of students are on some form of financial aid at member schools, but being a student on financial aid poses a unique set of difficulties.

“It’s not like people make fun of you for being on financial aid, it’s that we don’t talk about it,” said the GDS student who preferred to remain unnamed. “By not talking about socioeconomic status, we make it taboo. Hidden tuition is where we see the greatest disparity. So for school sponsored trips, if you’re on financial aid, GDS pays the same percentage for the trip, but things like prom and graduation dresses are a problem. Going to prom isn’t just buying tickets to prom. It’s the outfits, hair, nails, dinner, limo, and often times a photographer as well. And to fit in, many kids will spend everything they can to fit in with their peers. Same thing with graduation dresses. They’re expensive and it’s required by the school.”

Christopher Marblo, an NAIS representative, said in a press release that “if schools truly want to meet the needs of their students, prepare them for the realities of the world, and teach them to be moral leaders of the future, then schools must become more diverse, more inclusive.”

For Frazier, the best way of achieving that goal is simply through opening a dialogue and having honest conversations about school communities. The problem, she says, is that “everyone refuses to have the tough conversations that need to be had, simply because they don’t want to feel uncomfortable.”

3,2,1 radio!

Straight Up: Urban Voice Spring 2015

2015-04-18 21.11.00Usher and Common perform at Washington, DC Earth Day Concert


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Sophomore Lila Bromberg – The Field School, Washington, DC

2015-04-18 21.10.02                                      Usher and Common perform at Washington, DC Earth Day Concert


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Police are not the enemy

Senior Courtney Edwards – From the Heart Christian School, Suitland, MD

Police Brutality

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The advent of social media provides virtually instant access to events and happenings just about anywhere.  As a result, more and more incidents of police brutality in the United States have been on display.   Straight Up: Urban Voice senior Courtney Edwards of From the Heart Christian School in Suitland, Maryland reports that despite the plethora of negative images and stories involving law enforcement, not all police are demonstrating bad behavior.

In recent years police brutality has been a hot topic in the media. The Washington Post reports that 1 in 6 people were unarmed and two-thirds of the fatalities involved either African Americans or Hispanics.  12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Ohio, 19-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri and 50-year-old Walter Scott of North Charleston, South Carolina, all African-American, were shot … 25-year-old  Freddie Gray of Baltimore, Maryland  also African-American, suffered a spinal cord injury and died while in police custody.. In Staten Island, New York another African-American, 43-year-old Eric Garner was choked … and the list goes on … but the public is less familiar with how the police are affected by each of these situations.

2015-05-09 16.54.13                                                                                                United for Blue Vice President and Co-Founder Bobbie Padget

“We grieve we feel, we get upset, we cry. You know it’s not just the family that suffers. You were raised not to take a life. Your parents, the Bible don’t take a life, yet you’ve had to take someone’s life. That’s something that never goes away.”

Bobbie Padget is the Co-founder and Vice President of United for Blue and the wife of a Prince Georges County policeman.  She notes most officers follow the law…

“There are over 900,000 police officers in this country. They don’t want bad officers any more than we as citizens want bad officers. They want them in jail just as much as you know anyone else.”

United for Blue, works to bridge the gap between communities and police.

“One of the things that we’ve done is a thank you card program which is we want citizens and we want students in school to send thank you notes to the officers so that we can show all these officers they are cared for and appreciated.”

Because police work can be dangerous.  On occasion, officers risk their lives, often times for strangers.  “Officer Down Memorial Page” reports 54 police deaths in the line of duty so far this year.

“Our job is to protect and serve the community.”

2015-05-09 15.56.40                                          Montgomery County Police Department Detective William Peacock

Montgomery County Maryland Police Department detective William Peacock explains his take on how the media has influenced the public’s reactions to police brutality.

“I believe the media has gone overboard and their interpretations of the events that are going on and in many cases they’ve actually helped to fuel fires that were small and became just way out of proportion based on wrong information.”

Peacock adds the stories have influenced people’s opinions, and these opinions have helped to shape negative attitudes.  The numerous incidents have contributed to many residents distrust of police.

“I would say that it’s going to be necessary that everybody takes time to meet with one another. Ok. And that, it’s not only the police going after the community, but the community can come on down to the police station and stop in and get to know their community police officers.”

Many citizens and law enforcement suggest the use of body cameras worn by police to help curb the violence.

President Obama Requests Funds for Police Body Cameras

Some police departments already have incorporated the technology.  It is yet to be seen if President Obama’s proposal will be implemented nationwide.

A new metrorail line isn’t music to everyone’s ears

Sophomore Lila Bromberg – The Field School, Washington, DC

Purple Line

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Purple line proposal mapThe Purple Line is a 16-mile east-west light rail line linking Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley Park, the University of Maryland at College Park, and New Carrollton.

Expansion of Washington, DC’s metro rail system is in question.  A proposal for the Purple Line, which will run between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is being considered.  One of the areas impacted will be the Capital Crescent trail.  It is a shared use, off road trail spanning Georgetown in Washington, DC to  Silver Spring, Maryland.  Straight Up: Urban Voice sophomore Lila Bromberg of The Field School in Washington, DC reports some Capital Crescent trail-users and nearby residents are concerned about disruption to the public path…

“Hogan Kill the Purple Line!”

SUNP0212                                                                             Capital Crescent Trail map

Chevy Chase resident Marsha Francis, who lives along Capital Crescent trail, is clearly one of the opponents  of the Purple Line proposal.  Talks to construct the new line have been underway since the early 2000s.  It would be 16-miles of track and run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, Maryland, connecting the Red, Green, and Orange lines.   While some residents are concerned about the hefty price tag, others are worried about the disturbance and environmental damage the addition will cause to the Capital Crescent Trail.

“You’re going to have a train and a pathway next to it with- (long pause, can edit out) the renderings that MTA have come out with show a little green strip in between, maybe some plantings, but the way that it’s been described as you couldn’t have any overhanging trees, so all the trees have to go”

SUNP0223Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt

Ajay Bhatt is the president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail organization.  It is one of the groups opposing the purple line proposal.  He says the group’s main concern is keeping the trail, commonly used for biking, walking and running, intact for generations to come.

SUNP0218                                                                                   Capital Crescent Trail

“So certainly we are advocating for preserving this as a park. It’s frustrating to think about the possibility of it all being sacrificed for a project that I don’t think is well thought out and I don’t think is worth the money, especially when there are other things that we can do with that money for transit.”

Among some of Bhatt’s suggestions are an improved bus system and expansion of Capital Bike Share.  On the flip side, proponents for the Purple Line argue that it will create a more efficient transit system and encourage economic development. Purple Line Now representatives were not available for an interview, but the group’s website claims that the light rail will decrease travel time significantly for tens of thousands of transit riders and create thousands of jobs.  Friends of The Capital Crescent trail’s Ajay Bhatt says that’s not enough, and so the group is taking legal action.

“We’ve sent a letter of intent to sue the state of Maryland, and at the same time just recently the state, MTA has notified the court that they plan to join the Fish and Wildlife Service and the FDA as a defendant in our legal case against FDA and Fish and Wildlife Service.”

The legal case could play into Governor Hogan’s decision.  He has postponed an announcement that originally was expected in May, keeping proponents and opponents of the Purple Line in suspense.