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.
At the beginning of the year, I was blind to how deeply embedded some problems are within our society.
I grew up in a small town in Maine called Norridgewock with my mom, dad, and sisters. I moved to North Carolina when I was little and have enjoyed living here. One of the things that is deeply rooted in my nature is wanting to always treat others with respect and empathy.
I think the main catalyst for this may have been my mom. She has always pushed me to build upon those skills and modeled them for me, also. So it was hard for me coming to terms with how bad some of the negativity had become at school this year.
I knew there was tension but never fully realized to what extent it was present until I was drafted for the Respect and Inclusiveness team. That’s when it became clear to me how others felt and that there were barriers between students.
During the first meeting I was really inspired by the people around me to be more involved and make a positive impact on the people around me. It really helped change my perspective. I began to notice things, like how some people weren’t heard or were unhappy with the state of things and how they were being treated.
These problems likely festered during the pandemic as people interacted less and less, so I guess it makes sense that there might be more conflict as people begin to interact more. But, as my mother’s son, I wanted to do what I could to change some of that.
After the first meeting of the Respect and Inclusiveness Group, I got involved in building the presentation. We covered things like mindfulness, empathy, and other moral/social codes.
We wanted to remind and encourage people to build on and use these skills. When it was time to present, I was a little nervous, but it all went well. One thing that I did notice is that the success and outcome of the presentation depended not just on the speaker but on the audience — especially with the sort of presentation we were doing.
It all depends on how interactive the audience is. We, as speakers, tried to encourage the audience, but at the end of the day, they had to want to listen and to improve and change. A lot of them did.
What this year has taught me is a different version of the lesson from my mother. Beyond the need to be respectful, there is a need to be aware of what others are going through — and to start somewhere if I want to see change.