Equity Study Circles return this October


Photo by Abby Kee

Posters like these are hung up around the halls of WJ to promote Study Circles. There was an interest meeting held on Sept. 21 in the Student Commons. Allison Hoefling, advisor of Study Circles plans to hold the first meeting in October.

After a rise of inequities at WJ, students continue to engage in brave conversations during Study Circles, in order to promote mental health, inclusivity, student voice, diversity and equity.
Study Circles, an official MCPS equity initiative, were introduced to WJ many years ago, but have grown in popularity and importance to the student body. During the 2022-2023 school year, Allison Hoefling, WJ’s diversity and equity teacher, who facilitates the study circle program, is planning on holding the first study circle in October. She plans to have one per marking period, involving 50 students and 10 teachers over a two-day retreat.
“Study Circles gives us a platform to engage in difficult conversations related to race and this is in alignment with WJ’s vision because WJ’s vision is to be inclusive, engaging and inspiring and striving to prepare global citizens,” Assistant Principal Nicole Morgan said.
During Study Circles, students engage in courageous and difficult conversations about topics such as race, gender and identity in order to build relationships and fix inequities in the community. Students and teachers get to know one another in the safe and welcoming environment that is created and nurtured through Study Circles.
Study Circles last for two full days. On the first day, students identify shared experiences of inequity and get to know one another. On the second day, students brainstorm tangible solutions to the problems they have identified, which they then present to Principal Jennifer Baker and her administration.
“When you sit through Study Circles, it is an emotional journey and you learn a lot about each other and learn a lot about teachers,” Hoefling said.
Study Circles have already had a significant impact on the WJ community. After students addressed a need to better communicate with staff in the building, a Student Advisory Board was created to foster that communication. Due to a schoolwide need for more mental health and wellness time, the lunch period has been extended from 40 minutes to an hour to give students more time to relax during the school day. Also with the outreach from the advisory board, students are able to change the name on their student IDs to their preferred name to allow non-binary and transgender students to express themselves and feel included.
Despite the achievements of the Study Circles to date, there is still more work to be done. Students are afraid to speak out, especially since some people fail to acknowledge that the inequities students face are real and need to be solved.
“The school is still in the process of being more equitable for the students. For me personally, I feel Hispanics are behind and don’t have the same opportunities and chances as the rest of the students,” former Study Circle participant senior Sebastian Beltran Gomez said.