A MHS report card: trying to change the future by broadening Black History curriculum 2018

Black History Month Series: Part 2


Marshall High School, Marshall Michigan

Contributing Writer

©The Recorder February, 2018

The year 2013 was a pivotal one for Marshall High School – everything changed when 187 students-of-color, who had attended the majority-black Albion Public School system, arrived for their first day of classes that fall at a school where only seven percent of its student were non-white. With that arrival also came two new rallying cries for the every-day thinking that resulted from the merger of the two student bodies: diversity and inclusion.

“Diversity and inclusion are two very key dynamics Marshall Public Schools has focused upon over the past eight years,” MPS superintendent Dr. Randy Davis commented recently. “During that time we have experienced a more diverse student population of culture, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic conditions, and family backgrounds. School of Choice has always influenced this change, but the biggest impact has come from our intentional and ongoing partnership with the Albion community.”

MHS principal Scott Hutchins arrived a year-and-a-half after Albion’s students did, after some of the biggest bumps in the road had been smoothed out under the leadership of previous principal Dan Luciani. It’s now Hutchins’ responsibility to ensure that diversity and inclusion are a purposeful and deliberate part of what drives every aspect of his school, including its curriculum.

Scott Hutchins with Harry Bonner at Marshall High School Michigan

In a recent sit-down with this reporter and Albion’s Harry Bonner, Sr., Hutchins said, enthusiastically, “I thoroughly enjoy what I do here. But at first, there was a lot of learning. We’ve got a great team, an excellent staff. I feel that I came at a good time and am polishing the stone that they mined.” Hutchins explained that building trust was his focus for his first 18 months on the job, along with building connections across Calhoun County with people such as Bonner.

The principal, who hails from Michigan Center, credits his love of a diverse student population with the time he did his MSU student teaching at Northeast Elementary, a Jackson Public School with a forty percent minority population. As an educator, Hutchins then stayed on in Jackson, spending a year teaching at Parkside Middle School, a year as principal at Jackson High School, a year as principal at Bennet Elementary, followed by three years as assistant principal at Parkside before making the move to Marshall. He also earned his Master’s in educational leadership from Eastern Mich. Univ.

From the context of February as a celebration of Black History, Hutchins offers four examples of intentional curriculum change at his school:

  1. The English classes for all 9th through 12th-grade students have always read a select group of novels each year. Prior to the merger, Hutchins says, the reading list was not diverse. “Now it is,” he affirms.
  2. In teacher Steve Swaton’s social studies classrooms, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was played in its entirety to the students on MLK’s birthday, and there were discussions afterwards.
  3. Jostens – the cap and gown folks – have a Jostens Renaissance® Education program of videos to help educators renew school climate and culture by focusing on the following tenets: build thecharacter of students inside and outside the classroom; enhance and grow connections with peers, parents, experts, and all stakeholders; and create a culture of celebration of all achievements to inspire success for the future. A favorite of the short videos screened this month at MHS has youth motivational speaker and action sports figure, Mike Smith, speaking about diversity and prejudice. Hutchins stresses that the videos are screened in the 22-student ‘seminar’ settings, not shown in a large assembly, so there is opportunity for discussion.
  4. At the students’ request, reports Hutchins, a large book display was created in the school library for Black History Month.

To help compile this ‘report card’ the Recorder next spoke to a number of Albion residents who are currently students-of-color at MHS to ask them how they think things are going at their school. The students included Shi’Terriona Straham, Akaiia Ridley, Larenz Hill, Alexis Griffin, Terek Straham, Darious McCormick, Ken’Yatta Hill, Yayonna Yahsha, and Kei’Asianique Hill.

They had kudos for Mr. Swatons’ U.S. History classes for being inclusive all the time, but lower marks for not enough Black History being blended into other classes’ educational offerings on a “daily basis, not just on MLK Day.”

For MLK’s birthday observance at the high school in 2018, these youth would like for there to be a school assembly with an interesting speaker. They cited a favorite MLK educational competition offered last year, organized by guidance counselor Andy McCormack, as something they thought was great, and would like back, but with improvements: info questions on MLK could be posed by loudspeaker first thing, then students would be encouraged to work as groups to answer the questions to create collaboration.

This group of students also expressed that they’d love to have some kind of diversity club that welcomed those who wanted to support inclusiveness along lines of race, religion, and sexuality.

On the ‘comment section’ of MHS’s diversity report card, these students would place the fact that dark-skinned classmates are still often generalized as “The Albion Kid,” by peers and even some staff. They say they often feel stigmatized, as Albion residents, as, automatically, poor. “It hurts when they go on about where they went on vacation or spent spring break,” was one teen girl’s comment.

“And, black teachers would be nice, too!” piped up another female student.

Two other young ladies talked about either visiting a white Marshall classmate’s home, or having a white Marshall classmate to their home in Albion, and getting to know each other in their home setting being such a positive experience: “I was told by my friend and her family that they’re glad to know me.”

When the circle of students was asked by Bonner “Do you think you’d be better off if you’d gone to a different school?” the answer was a resounding “No!” These youth judged life at MHS much better for them than it would have been at Homer or Springport.

When the circle of students was asked by Bonner “Do you think you’d be better off if you’d gone to a different school?” the answer was a resounding “No!” These youth judged life at MHS much better for them than it would have been at Homer or Springport.

While enjoying a lunch at Denny’s in Marshall after the high school visit, Bonner commented “What I heard from the kids is that they’d like more ways to have their culture explored. But they realize that they’re at a fine school.”

Bonner likened the Marshall/Albion merger to a marriage – “Two came together to become one.”

Ironically, the Denny’s server who waited on us, Vanessa Paug, is an Albion mom – married to Aaron Washington – whose son, A’Veion Washington is a ninth-grader at MHS (her own alma mater). “He really likes Marshall High School, has met lots of new people, and is getting along really well. I hear only good things from him.” She noted that he’d been invited back to participate in Albion College’s Big Read program next year for the third time.

“I believe this has been in the best interest of our students as we strive to prepare every student to live, work, and thrive in a more global society.

“From the creation of the cooperative high school in 2013, to the expansion of the cooperative agreement to include the middle school in 2016, and now the recent combining of our two school districts in July of 2016 through annexation; the students and the greater Albion community are now a part of who we are as a larger, more diverse district,” Dr. Davis said about the communities’ journey together. “I believe this has been in the best interest of our students as we strive to prepare every student to live, work, and thrive in a more global society. We have had our challenges along the way, but we have also experienced great successes and rewards. The climate and culture of our schools are improving every day, and we always have more to do to help every child feel connected, engaged, and included in our hallways and classrooms.”

As one of those great successes, Hutchins offers this statistic: During the first semester of the 2016-17 school year, the beginning of the fourth year after the merger, there were no fights – zero – at MMS. “It’s quite a testament to the kids – they’ve worked out other ways to settle differences!” he says proudly.

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller

Michelle is the author of the book Mr. Bonner: The Story of a Mentoring Journey, which was released in 2019.   She has written for The Recorder, the Albion College Io Triumphe magazine, and she is an enthusiastic scrapbooker in her spare time.  See more articles by Michelle Mueller here: www.albionmich.net/writer-mueller/

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