Study circles created to combat racism at WJ

Caeden Babcock

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Photo by Wendy Borrelli

Teachers and students gather to discuss race issues at WJ via Zoom. These meetings called study circles were created back in February to help the administration gain valuable insight on race issues at WJ.

In hopes of improving race relations, Principal Jennifer Baker created study circles for students and staff to have the opportunity to speak freely on race issues at WJ. The study circles, created back in February, give the administration valuable knowledge about how students and staff feel about a variety of issues and solutions. The need for the study circles was heightened over the summer after multiple anonymous social media accounts emerged exposing students and staff failure to respect and protect students of color.

“The Study Circles Program provides the structures for effective dialogue and action so that schools, and the school district, can address practices and policies that limit their ability to close the racial achievement gap,” according to the MCPS website.

Multiple study circles have taken place from February to September; each study circle is run by a department head and teachers are encouraged to join. Multiple students and clubs like the Black Student Union have also been called to participate in the study circles.

“My role was mainly a participant, I engaged in the conversations the facilitators asked…We basically talked about race, about how students of color have been treated and how they feel. Having uncomfortable conversations, and what could help,” senior Derrick Ozoemelam said.

Staff and students are collectively working together in the study circles, discussing a variety of race issues presented at WJ, especially those exposed by anonymous social media accounts. The account “blackatwj” has brought many disturbing occurrences to light over the summer which were discussed during the study circles.

WJ’s staff development teacher Jenelle Peterson has played a big role in the study circles.

“As the staff development teacher, I help organize and facilitate professional learning opportunities for staff. This year we felt very strongly that Study Circles would help us to have the much needed conversation between students and staff to transform the culture of the building by eliminating barriers to success,” Peterson said.

Study circles allow for the administration to gain valuable knowledge on what is limiting the success of students of color. The study circles also act as a safe space where students and teachers can share freely. So far, no changes have occurred directly from the study circles, but with students and teachers demanding change, system-wide reform is to be expected.

“I hope to see change in the school system itself, where we all don’t have to feel uncomfortable walking into the school,”

“I hope to see change in the school system itself, where we all don’t have to feel uncomfortable walking into the school,” Ozoemelam said.