Frontier alumni call for reform in race education

  • Two hundred and eighty-five alumni have signed a letter to Frontier Regional School administrators calling for educational reform on the topics of race and racism. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Two hundred and eighty-five alumni have signed an open letter to the Frontier Regional School administration calling for educational reform on the topics of race and racism.

Mariel Brown-Fallon, a 2011 alumna of Frontier Regional School, said she worked with several other alumni to organize the letter to the superintendent, curriculum director and principal, which was submitted Monday morning. The letter, signed by alumni who graduated between 1984 and 2020, offers suggestions on how to change the way these topics are taught at Frontier.

“There is momentum building for systemic changes to be made at the school,” Brown-Fallon said, “to help better prepare young people to graduate with the context they need to understand our increasingly complex and racially informed world.”

In the letter, alumni emphasized that this issue is not unique to Frontier. Students and schools across the country are beginning to reckon with the fact that core curricula have excluded the voices, history and experiences of Black Americans.

“As a result, the historical narrative of America that we give students is often a sanitized, white-centered version that doesn’t convey an accurate telling of who we are or where we’ve come from,” the letter reads. “When you know better, you have a responsibility to do better. As a country and a community, it is imperative that we rethink the way that we teach our children and young people about history and their relationship to it.”

To this end, the letter alumni signed supports seven main suggestions for overhauling the way students learn about race and racism in the United States.

These suggestions include:

■Developing or adopting a “Race and Racism in the U.S.” course, and making it a requirement for all juniors and seniors.

■Assigning summer reading that tackles issues related to race and racism, and including the voices and work of Black authors.

■Holding schoolwide screenings of films and documentaries that discuss what racism looks like in America today (mass incarceration, police brutality, war on drugs, etc.).

■Bringing in outside trainers or facilitators to hold workshops by grade to discuss bias, privilege and racism.

■Adopting a zero-tolerance policy for slurs and hate speech including racial slurs and symbols (verbal, written, graffiti or worn on clothing).

■Establishing tangible support systems that help to foster a safe, inclusive and healing environment for students of color.

■Prioritizing diversity and hiring more people of color at Frontier.

“We’re not asking to throw out textbooks,” Brown-Fallon said. “We’re asking to take small steps now to start immediately educating students on the things they are seeing going on across the country.”

On Saturday, 200 to 300 high school students led a march in South Deerfield advocating not only for police reform, but also for changes in high school history curricula to include Black history.

‘Good timing’

Frontier Principal George Lanides said the letter came with “good timing” as the school Monday held the first meeting for a newly formed committee assembled for the purpose of furthering education on anti-racism and equity. Lanides said the group is composed of teachers, parents, students and administrators.

“This is something that the staff is invested in,” Lanides said. “We understand how important it is and we will continue doing the work.”

According to Lanides, Assistant Principal Scott Dredge, a graduate of 1997, responded to the letter from alumni, and asked that his name be added to the list of signatures. In the letter, alumni say they did not spend meaningful time learning about the ways in which slavery and deep-rooted systemic racism impacts and informs the world today.

“While some of us have graduated more recently than others, we all believe that critical events, time periods and stories — specifically those related to the enslavement of African-Americans, the Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement — were skimmed over or completely absent from the curriculum taught during our middle and high school careers,” the letter reads.

While Lanides said the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are “unfortunate catalysts,” he also said it’s a good thing people across the country are being active in their response.”

Personal experiences

Emily Lucero, class of 2009, said she was invited to sign the final letter. Being of mixed heritage — her mother is white and her father is Native American — Lucero said the conversation is relevant to more than just Black history.

Growing up in a primarily white population, Lucero said she always had a sense she was “different.”

“I could relate to feeling like an outsider, but I don’t feel half of what Black Americans are feeling,” she said.

Amanda Mozea, class of 2013, said she didn’t fully realize her high school education was lacking until after she graduated. Mozea is a Black woman of mixed heritage — her mother is white and American, and her father is from Nigeria.

“I had a sense of it when I was a student, but I didn’t really have the vocabulary to put that experience in context,” Mozea said.

Mozea went on to graduate from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in social justice studies. She took courses focused on racism and contemporary issues in America, learning about education equity, health and criminal justice.

Mozea said one of the biggest things she added to the letter is the suggestion to “establish tangible support systems that help to foster a safe, inclusive and healing environment for students of color.” This could include hiring more teachers of color, creating a safe space for students to speak with a designated teacher on issues of race, or creating a path for direct communication between students and administrators.

“As a person of color who went to Frontier, I’d say there is a really strong Confederate culture at Frontier — at least when I went there,” Mozea said. “There were lots of students with Confederate flags on their hats, or boots with American flags on them. They did not get the deep, profound irony of that.”

She said there were instances where the N-word was written in graffiti on lockers. She also heard the N-word spoken out loud, and each time she would report it, only to be told nothing could be done if nobody else said they heard it, too.

“I’m both really angry that it’s taken until now to have these discussions, and grateful that it’s finally happening,” Mozea said. “I’m very hopeful that there will be tangible changes coming from this.”