When students at Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies returned to in-person instruction, they faced a tense situation in Elizabeth City. Students from nine different counties were gathering in a new school building — many interacting with each other for the first time — soon after the police killing of Andrew Brown, an unarmed Black man. In response to racist incidents, the school allowed students to lead the way, building a school culture around respect and inclusivity. This series includes five student perspectives and two perspectives from the guidance counselors in their own words.
I remember an Instagram page that was created in which people ranted about our school and shared stories of different things that had happened to them. Many posts detailed discrimination or bullying. Most of these stories shared a common theme: students felt like the administration was not doing anything to help them or address the issues.
I knew that many people in our school were dealing with social issues and discrimination but probably felt alone and had no way of addressing this issue.
As a student, it can sometimes feel like you do not have a voice, that you do not have the ability to take control of your own education. We wanted to be heard and be a voice for change, but we felt that there was no way for us to bring up this problem in a way that would lead to positive change.
Reading the Instagram posts, I started to think about our school and how it should be a place in which students could gather without the fear of disrespect or discrimination. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to do anything that I could to help make our school a better place in which everyone was treated equally and with respect.
Throughout our childhood, we hear all about respect from our parents and teachers. When we are young, we are constantly reminded of the way that we should treat others and the way we should interact with people. It can sometimes feel that as we grow up and progress through high school and the next chapter of our lives, some people can forget these lessons and begin to treat others disrespectfully.
As a student here at NEAAAT, I was not used to much discrimination or animosity between students up until this year, my junior year. I had begun to hear mentions of problems and discrimination between students. Friends would inform me of instances in which people were discriminated against due to their race, gender, or beliefs.
Soon after hearing about these occurrences, I received an email from my guidance counselor inviting me to participate in a group to promote respect and inclusiveness throughout our school. This group was composed of students from multiple backgrounds in order to have varying perspectives throughout the group.
At the first meeting, I was surrounded by 15 students that were all different in their own way but united under the belief that we could improve upon our school’s social issues and promote respect to our peers. During that first meeting, we discussed what respect meant to us and what we believed to be the correct way to treat others.
Over the next few meetings, we worked to use all of our separate ideas to form one cohesive identity that our group could take. We worked together to create a presentation intended to remind our peers of respect and the way that others should be treated.
Over three days, we divided ourselves into groups of three or four students and each presented this presentation to a different homeroom, attempting to persuade these students to think about what respect means and the consequences of their actions.
We tried to make the presentation interactive and engaging so that the students took something from it and make it personal for them.
I hope that as we continue into our next school year, these students will remember our presentation and be more conscious of the way that they treat others so that we can build community here at NEAAAT.
I think this all signified the start of the transition of our student body from students without a voice to students that feel comfortable identifying and tackling these issues that affect them on a daily basis.