By Justin Robertson
Unlike most policies and projects carried out in Howard County, a new and recent program was created by an actual student, Rachel Henry, attending Wilde Lake High School. In late March and early April, Howard County Public Schools conducted a new and intriguing program that allows students to see cultural differences between schools.
Unlike most policies and projects carried out in Howard County, a new and recent program was created by an actual student, Rachel Henry, attending Wilde Lake High School. In late March and early April, Howard County Public Schools conducted a new and intriguing program that allows students to see cultural differences between schools. The program involved four of the twelve high schools in Howard County, including Glenelg, Wilde Lake, Centennial, and Long Reach. From these four schools, twenty total students (five from each school) visited another high school that may have distinct cultural differences. For this year, Glenelg was paired with Wilde Lake and Centennial was paired with Long Reach. This unique opportunity presented to students not only allowed them to experience a “day in the life” of another school, but also allowed them to repudiate stereotypes.
Last school year, Rachel Henry, a Wilde Lake Senior Journalism student, wrote a letter to Howard County Public School System’s Board of Education that presented an idea to start a student shadowing program across high schools. Henry had multiple sources of inspiration, but she was most captivated when “looking at school profiles, the differences in AP testing diversity, the percentages of races, and the percentages of F.A.R.M., [or Free and Reduced Meals].” For some students, such as Henry, these statistics are concerning when compared between schools. For example, Glenelg and Marriots Ridge had less than five percent of the student population using F.A.R.M. in the 2017-2018 school year, while other schools, such as Wilde Lake, had forty percent using the meal plan. Despite the compelling statistics and inspiration behind Henry’s program, the board gave no response. It seemed like the program had no hope of starting until the board reached out to Henry this school year and proposed to start the program.
Once the logistics were figured out, Wilde Lake students were able to visit Glenelg on March 27, and Glenelg students were able to visit Wilde Lake on April 3. For each student to witness a “day in the life” of another school, every individual student was paired with another student from the different school. Then, for periods two through four, the visiting student followed his or her paired student. After students shadowed their peers for periods two through four, all ten students met for a debriefing. During the debriefing all of the students were able to express how they felt, what they saw, and the differences between their respective school and the school they were visiting. This system gave the visiting students the most accurate experience possible, and allowed them to see the culture at another Howard County high school.
Although all of the high schools are only a short distance away from each other, every school has a distinct and unique culture. Glenelg Sophomore, Everett Stimler, participated in the exchange program and said, “each of our schools has a different culture and environment. By allowing other students to learn of another school’s environment, it would allow people to connect more.” When Wilde Lake students visited Glenelg, they observed that Glenelg is a very quiet school that primarily focuses on academics. The students’ observations were not negative, but they provided insight on the differences among schools in Howard County. Meanwhile, when Glenelg students visited Wilde Lake, they discovered how Wilde Lake is a community where relationships are strong and the teachers socially interact with their students frequently. Current Wilde Lake High School Principal and former Glenelg High School Assistant Principal, Mr. Wilson, said, “This exchange program has clearly helped 4 high schools build positive relationships and replace misconceptions and false assumptions with real understanding.” These cultural differences may boost the greatness of Howard County schools, but they also allow stereotypes to develop.
During Glenelg’s visit to Wilde Lake, Wildcat students asked if “people at Glenelg really ride tractors to school.” One of the stereotypes that exists for Glenelg is that Glenelg is predominately made up of farmers who prefer to ride tractors rather than cars to school. Similarly, there are false stereotypes about Wilde Lake due to its more diverse student population. Wilde Lake is often considered a high school made up of almost entirely African American students, despite its’ African American population only being forty three percent during the 2017-2018 school year. These sort of generalizations have become a major problem across Howard County. Mr. Wilson, said, “Having served both the [Wilde Lake] and [Glenelg] communities over my years as an educator, I have seen firsthand how misconceptions create walls and stifle effective relationships within Howard County.” The stifled relationships that Mr. Wilson mentioned force some students to be wary of other schools that are different from their own.
Despite the positive influences that the students received from the program, some students were nervous about the process. Henry says that before visiting Glenelg, she was terrified since “Four boys got arrested here last year, and being mixed and Jewish, those hate crimes directly pertained to me. I know the views of those four boys do not define the whole school, but others could think this way too.” All events that occur at a school add to the school’s reputation, and Glenelg is no exception. Glenelg’s past has created various stereotypes and images that some of the Howard County community believes in. In spite of her original beliefs, Glenelg soon grew on Henry who says, “[Glenelg] is not a bunch of out of control people. It’s very quiet, and there is nothing happening in the hallways.” These anxious thoughts were similarly evident when Glenelg students visited Wilde Lake. In the debriefing, Cara Kishter, a Sophomore Glenelg student who participated in the program, said she was “Nervous about coming to Wilde Lake after hearing how noisy Wilde Lake is.” The anxiety that students have when visiting other schools should be eradicated, and this new exchange program presents a great opportunity to do so.
This new program created by Henry may not be the first of its’ kind, but it has the potential to become one of the most influential exchange programs in the United States. For a county that preaches being one of the best in education across the country, there is immense work to be done. However, if the program takes off and can incorporate new and more people into it, the current falsehoods and school stereotypes that exist today could end for good.