Thursday, December 21, 2017

District High School Students Excel in Learning Through Languages Symposium

The pairing of UNC and Duke in conversation often brings to mind the sports rivalry, but the frequency with which the universities collaborate in academic and research initiatives deserves more of a spotlight. A group of CHCCS high school students and teachers benefited from one of those collaborations recently by participating in the Learning through Languages Symposium. Produced by the Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UNC and Duke, the event took place on December 13 at the FedEx Global building on the UNC campus.
Now in its third year, the Symposium seeks to challenge advanced language students with a competition that demands excellence in both written and oral research skills. Deliver an off the cuff analysis on the impact of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, speaking only in French? No problem for these students. Or answer a range of questions from judges in Japanese about the Western influences on current Israeli politics? Piece of cake. This is what these students prepared for in teams of two or three, and the rigorous expectations seemed to delight them all.
Of the 34 teams competing from across the state, 11 were from CHCCS, sponsored by seven world languages teachers of Spanish, French, German and Japanese. Of the 18 prizes awarded this year, eight went to our teams. East Chapel Hill High student Makenna Meyer said, “The symposium helped me improve my Spanish in so many different ways. Through our research, I learned words that wouldn't ordinarily be on a vocabulary list. Through the formal paper, I was able to practice my writing. Through the oral presentation and question/answer period, I was able to practice my speaking and listening skills. However, the symposium experience is very valuable to me not only because it improved my Spanish, but I was also able to learn about other cultures and languages.” Meyer’s team, sponsored by Spanish teacher Justin Seifts, tied for two honorable mention awards for their research on the Rohingya crisis.

Spanish IV students at Carrboro High, Julia Connor and Dani Kaufman-Sedano, won an honorable mention in Best Scholarship for their project, also on the Rohingya crisis. Their teacher, Amy Olsen said, “We're extremely proud of them at Carrboro for representing the district's stellar World Language program, and also for winning an award the first time their school was selected for competition in the Symposium!”

The guidelines for the competition required students to use APA style instead of the more familiar MLA. Each project had three components: the written paper, the oral presentation, and the project visual. Students chose their topics from one of four strands: Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, Europe or Middle East and North Africa. The contest design promotes research methodology, technology literacy, and critical thinking, and it addresses the Department of Public Instruction’s Essential Standards for the study of World Languages.
Judges for the competition were professors or graduate students from UNC and Duke. One of the judges for the French presentations was Dr. Deb Reisinger from the Practice of Romance Studies at Duke; she also happens to be a CHCCS parent. “I work closely with AP curriculum and development, and so I was eager to meet the students who were taking AP courses in World Languages. What an impressive group! Our AP French students were simply outstanding. Not only had they produced written analyses that reflected critical thinking and strong research skills, but they were able to talk about their research on refugees and migration with me in French. What stood out most was that these students were clearly passionate about learning, and able to articulate the importance of learning about the world from multiple perspectives. I am thrilled that my child will have the opportunity to participate in CHCCS' excellent AP program.”
One of those French students from Chapel Hill High, Daniel Zaretsky, was on the team that won Best Use of Written and Oral Language (across all languages). He said, “The Research Symposium was definitely a very enriching and important experience as a language learner. Of course, we couldn't have done it without Mme. (Christen) Campbell. The processes of researching and writing the paper, and preparing the presentation, were definitely eye-opening, and I encountered many interesting and shocking facts while exploring the details of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and its effects on Lebanon.”
Congratulations to all of the award winning teams from CHCCS, as well as all the participants who put so much effort into their scholarship and presentations!
Learn more about the Symposium at

Below are the award winners:                        
Best Overall Research Project on Contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean:
  • Julia Cummer, Meenakshi Kaundinya and Daniela Martínez Leal of East Chapel Hill High School, teacher Valerie Huet, for “L’Ouragan Maria Révèle La Négligence Envers Porto Rico” (“Hurricane Maria Reveals Negligence towards Puerto Rico”)
Best Use of Written and Oral Language:
  • Alec Caruana, Robin Huang, and Daniel Zaretsky of Chapel Hill High School, teacher Christen Campbell, for “Une investigation de la présence des réfugiés syriens au Liban” (“An Investigation of the Presence of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon”)
Honorable Mention of Best Use of Written and Oral Language:
  • Justin Holly, Emmy Soll, and Nikita Zaretsky, of Chapel Hill High School, teacher Christen Campbell, for “Les effets du Printemps arabe sur la traite des humains en Tunisie” (“The Effects of the Arab Spring on Human Rights in Tunisia”)
Honorable Mention of Best Scholarship (tie):
  • Julia Connor and Danielle Kaufman-Sedano of Carrboro High School, teacher Amy Olsen, for “Examinando la crisis rohingya como limpieza étnica” (“Examining the Rohingya Crisis as Ethnic Cleansing”)

  • Makenna Meyer, Noah Clapacs, and Natalie Troy of East Chapel Hill High School, teacher Justin Seifts, for “La respuesta mundial a la crisis de los rohingya: Buscando soluciones cooperativas para una crisis en crecimiento” (“The World’s Response to the Rohingya Crisis: Seeking Cooperative Solutions for a Growing Crisis”)
Honorable Mention of Best Visual Presentation (tie):
  • Rebecca Guo, Jane Hwang, and MeiXuan Zhu of East Chapel Hill High School, teacher Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi, for “中国、日本、インド、ベトナムの 勢力拡大による国境紛争”  (“China, Japan, India, and Vietnam’s Increasing Power and the Resulting Border Conflicts”)
Honorable Mention of Research Project on Contemporary Asia:
  • Makenna Meyer, Noah Clapacs, and Natalie Troy of East Chapel Hill High School, teacher Justin Seifts, for “La respuesta mundial a la crisis de los rohingya: Buscando soluciones cooperativas para una crisis en crecimiento” (“The World’s Response to the Rohingya Crisis: Seeking Cooperative Solutions for a Growing Crisis”)
Honorable Mention of Research Project on Contemporary Middle East and North Africa:

  • Jillian Breithaupt, Ethan San Pedro, and Haruna Tsukiyama of Chapel Hill High School, teacher Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi, for “イスラエルの政治への欧米の影響” (“Western Influence on Israel’s Politics)
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Joal Broun Sworn In at December 19 Meeting

Joal Broun was sworn in at the Board of Education's December 19 meeting. Joal has been on the Board since March 2016, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy. Being re-elected in November, she will now serve a four-year term.

Joal has lived in Orange County for over twenty-four years. She has spent her career as an attorney, currently serving as the Lobbying Compliance Director for the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. She also served as a Carrboro Alderperson from 1999 to 2011, and is a Trustee at St. Paul AME Church.

Prior to her appointment to the Board of Education, Joal served on the School Improvement Team of Chapel Hill High School and as the parent representative for the junior varsity and varsity men’s soccer team.

Joal is a graduate of Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University and the Wake Forest University School of Law. Joal is married to Jonathan E. Broun, Senior Staff attorney at Prisoner Legal Services. They have two children, Harrison, a 2017 graduate of Chapel Hill High School, and Rachel, a rising junior at Chapel Hill High School.
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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Make Plans to See Resilience - January 25

Save the date for a showing of the documentary, Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope.

Orange County Strong and coalition partners will be showing this film on Thursday, January 25 at the Whitted Building (300 West Tryon Street) in Hillsborough. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the film starts at 6 p.m. A panel discussion will follow.

This film is about creating "trauma informed" programs in schools and communities...meaning that everyone in the community is informed of the signs and symptoms of trauma, which is defined as including divorce, death in the family, drug addiction, abuse, and more.

Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities who are using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease. 

“The child may not remember, but the body remembers.” 

The original research was controversial, but the findings revealed the most important public health findings of a generation. RESILIENCE is a one-hour documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the birth of a new movement to treat and prevent Toxic Stress. Now understood to be one of the leading causes of everything from heart disease and cancer to substance abuse and depression, extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behavior. 

However, as experts and practitioners profiled in RESILIENCE are proving, what’s predictable is preventable. These physicians, educators, social workers and communities are daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse and neglect. And they’re using cutting edge science to help the next generation break the cycles of adversity and disease.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Estes Hills Elementary Students “Shop with a Cop”

While most of their classmates were working on math or reading Tuesday morning, 50 energized Eagles from Estes Hills Elementary boarded activity buses to “shop with a cop.” Led by a pair of Orange County sheriffs on motorcycles, the students were treated to a full motorcade, blue lights flashing, all the way to the Walmart in Hillsborough. As one officer told a student standing in line for the bus, “It’s just like the president in his motorcade.”

When the buses arrived in front of a very busy Walmart, rows of police cruisers and motorcycles brought the nearly 50 officers who were waiting to be transformed into personal shoppers. Eight law enforcement agencies partnered with the initiative this year: Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Mebane, UNC Hospital and UNC Police Departments, as well Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Each officer matched up with a student, or in a few cases, a pair of students, and off they went into the crowded aisles of the store, orange shopping lists in hand. Every student received a $100 gift card.

The Optimist Club of Chapel Hill began organizing the event in 2012 when they selected Carrboro Elementary as a partner. For the first few years, 20 children were chosen to go on the shopping sprees, but last year the number grew to 40, and this year, 50 students in grades K-5 participated. Trish Verne, president of the club, said that the goal for Shop with a Cop reaches beyond the desire to help families experience a brighter holiday season; for many children, this is an important early exposure to law enforcement. “We want to start building bridges now,” Verne said, in hopes that positive associations and trust can form.

Betsy Booth, social worker at Estes Hills Elementary, said she’d been waiting 23 years during her time at the school, in hopes that her students could benefit from a holiday program like Shop with a Cop. She organized the event, writing letters to parents for permission and collaborating on shopping lists, lining up drivers and helpers from the school. “Shop with a Cop was a tremendous event!” she said. “Many children bought gifts for family members in addition to toys and clothes for themselves.  The enthusiasm was overwhelming, and I think the police officers enjoyed the event as much as the kids.”

The officers engaged fully in the shopping process, advising children on purchases, praising their selections. One boy chose poinsettias for his mother and grandmother, another picked out a bracelet for his mother, and many children used part of their $100 to buy gifts for younger siblings. For the students themselves, there was a lot of Slime and Pokemon cards in the shopping carts, Legos and dolls, in addition to socks, shirts and sweaters. One student held his new fishing pole proudly, and he talked about how much he loves to go fishing with his grandfather. 

When the last of the students left the store, alongside officers pushing carts filled with huge plastic bags, the Eagles boarded the buses again for the bells-and-whistles ride back to Estes Hills.

“The children felt so special,” said Booth. “Thank you to the Optimist Club and all the local police departments for sponsoring this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

To learn more about the Optimist Club, visit  Trish Verne is accepting donations for next year’s Shop with a Cop. Checks can be mailed to her at 6803 Turkey Farm Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
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Monday, December 11, 2017

German Teacher at East Chapel Hill Has "Big Plans"

Hip hop, classical music, world language instruction, and a high energy concert in Raleigh all added up to a major reward for East students studying German this fall. In October, the Bavarian band, EINSHOCH6, played a show for North Carolina high school students at Broughton High, and the attendee reviews were outstanding. Barbara Roeder, the only German teacher in the district, was one of the primary forces in organizing the event which was promoted by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG). On the Saturday before the October 23 show, the band presented a workshop for German teachers, and Roeder helped organize that event as well.
Roeder began teaching German part-time at East last year, but she has already created a strong presence in the district’s world languages profile. To hear her speak about her aspirations for the program, it’s clear she is only just getting started. “I have big plans,” she said with a smile. “Leading school districts in North Carolina such as Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg have strong German programs, and it is important for CHCCS to have one as well.”
One of her teaching choices is to utilize the lesson plans, videos and activities provided through the collaboration of the Deutsche Welle and the German government in the form of das Bandtagebuch mit EINSHOCH6, a comprehensive program that teaches the German language and culture through music.
Moving away from sometimes outdated textbooks and plugging into internet resources seemed an obvious choice for Roeder, who has three teenage children of her own. The fact that EINSHOCH6 is comprised of talented, progressive young musicians makes the approach all the more engaging. Roeder said that her students who attended the concert in Raleigh all knew the words to the German songs and sang along through the show.
Among the World Language options available to CHCCS high school students, what are the arguments for choosing German? Perhaps most students have little, or no, idea what the benefits of German study might be. Consider the familiar names of German businesses with US headquarters or regional offices in North Carolina: BASF, BMW, Volkswagen, DHL Global Forwarding, Siemens, Stihl, Lidl and Aldi, to name just some of the hundreds of companies. The North Carolina concentration of giant pharmaceutical corporations like Bayer, Merz, Pfizer and Novartis add to the opportunities to work for German or Swiss companies. A current posting for positions with software developer Commercetools describes it as a “growing, international company with three offices in Berlin, Munich and Durham." Roeder noted that many of her students at East intend to pursue one of the STEM fields in higher education, especially engineering, so the choice of German fits naturally with their goals.
Another benefit of studying high school German is to take advantage of the generous and abundant opportunities sponsored by the German government or European Union; a variety of scholarships and grants exist for fully funded summer and year-long experiences. Celia Nordby, now in German 3, won the state and then national competition for a three-week, all-expenses paid summer program in 2016. Two of Roeder’s students, Jackie Broz and Hailey Wunder, earned full-year scholarships through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, making East the only American high school to place two students in that very competitive program.
“I chose to take German as a world language because I think it’s interesting, from a linguistics standpoint,” said Nordby. “A lot of other languages, like English, are based off of German or are Germanic languages. I also take it because I think it's an important language to know on a global scale. I want to do work with the UN or the EU, and I really do enjoy it a lot.”
Roeder belongs to a group of German teachers in the state who recently launched a campaign called German4NC. ( According to their website, “nearly a quarter of North Carolinians trace their heritage to Germany, by far the largest group in the state.”
Not all of her students are motivated to learn the language because of their career goals. Some love German dance techno music, while others are drawn in by the ever-growing youth appeal of Berlin. The multiple inspirations among her students ensure a diverse and engaged cohort of German learners.
“I have put in countless hours to prepare students for tests and interviews, advise them and write recommendation letters,” said Roeder. “However, my students’ accomplishments are my greatest reward, and my hope is to build up the program even more in the future.”

Barbara Roeder is a native of a small town in Bavaria where her parents still live. She received her B.A. in English from Julius-Maximilians-Universitaet, Wuerzburg, but a scholarship for an exchange year at Davidson College introduced her to North Carolina, as well as her future husband. She has taught German for 25 years, primarily at the college level, and holds a M.A. from Appalachian State University. She has also taught at CHICLE, the local language institute for the past eight years.
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Winter Break Dec. 22-Jan.1 / Vacaciones de Invierno 22 de dic. al 1 ero de enero

Schools and Offices Closed for Winter Break
District schools and offices will be closed on Friday, December 22 through Monday, January 1 for Winter Break.  School will resume as usual and district offices will be open on Tuesday, January 2.  Please note that Thursday, December 21 is a full school day.

Escuelas y oficinas estarán cerradas durante las vacaciones de invierno
Escuelas y oficinas del distrito estarán cerradas desde el viernes 22 de diciembre hasta el lunes 1 de enero, con motivo de las vacaciones de invierno.  Escuelas y oficinas del distrito abrirán sus puertas como de costumbre el martes 2 de enero. Tenga en cuenta que el jueves 21 de diciembre será un día de jornada escolar completa.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Weather Cancelations for December 8 & 9

Due to uncertain weather conditions, all activities scheduled for Saturday, December 9 have been canceled. Regarding evening events on December 8, many have already been canceled or postponed. Those that are already underway will be concluding by 7:30 p.m. Second basketball games will be canceled and rescheduled.

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CHCCS Welcomes New Board Members, Chair, Vice Chair

New Board Members Sworn In
Chair and Vice Chair elected

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, at its December 7 meeting, welcomed Mary Ann Wolf and Amy Fowler as they were sworn in as our newest board members. James Barrett, re-elected, was also sworn in. Joal Broun, also re-elected, was unable to attend, but will be sworn in at a future meeting.
Mary Ann Wolf
Dr. Mary Ann Wolf currently directs the Digital Learning Programs at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State. Her impact on education locally, statewide and nationally has been extensive as a policy-maker, researcher and advocate. For the past 20 years, in her current position, as well as her previous role as executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, Wolf has focused on boosting American students’ competitiveness in the global economy. She is an enthusiastic proponent of personalized learning. As Wolf’s CHCCS school board candidate website states, “Education is part of who I am and how I think.”

Wolf began her career in education as a fifth grade teacher and earned her Ph.D. in education leadership at the University of Virginia, after a Master’s in Elementary Education at George Washington University and a Bachelor’s in Accounting and Marketing at Georgetown University. She and her husband are CHCCS parents, with three children in high, middle and elementary schools.

Amy Fowler
Dr. Amy Fowler, a local pediatrician, has chaired the district’s Special Needs Advisory Council for years. She has also served as president of the Orange Chatham chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina. During her campaign, Fowler emphasized the need for continuing supports for students with disabilities, as well as increased focus on the mental health of students. “We must ensure that all students feel safe and ready to learn,” Fowler wrote in a September letter to the Daily Tar Heel.

After earning an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from Duke University, Fowler received a medical degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a Masters of Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill in Maternal and Child Health. She joined the pediatric team at Chapel Hill Children and Adolescents’ Clinic in October 2007. She and her husband have three children, two of whom are still attending CHCCS schools.

Wolf, Fowler and Broun will serve four-year terms, and Barrett is serving a two-year term that was created by the resignation of Annetta Streater in September.

Additionally, the board elected Rani Dasi as its new Chair, and Margaret Samuels as its new Vice Chair.

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Chapel Hill High - Top Construction Priority

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education met Thursday night at Smith Middle School to discuss next steps to addressing facility renovation and potential capacity needs in the district. 

Given the limited amount of available funding and the significant increase in construction inflation (driven by natural disasters around the country and rising construction demand in the region), the district’s concern is to balance elementary school capacity needs driven by the NC General Assembly mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 with the current renovation needs of many of our facilities.

The General Assembly has mandated that class sizes in grades K-3 be reduced, but have provided no funding for this mandate. This presents significant challenges in capacity, recruiting teachers and staff, potential increases in class sizes for our fourth- and fifth-grades, redistricting and negative impact to world language, art and music. The investment in Lincoln Center was originally planned to provide elementary school capacity, which would allow phasing for renovations at elementary schools. This mandate increased our need for capacity to mitigate the above issues.

The board and administration, in consideration of input from the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, parents and community members, voted unanimously to move forward with addressing health and safety needs by reconstructing Chapel Hill High School.

It is important to note that upon completion of Chapel Hill High, there is still a significant need for resources to rebuild other schools.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese asked audience members for help with the following three areas:

1. Class size legislation. The new state law that reduces K-3 class size needs to change. It can’t be implemented without taking drastic measures or spending tens of millions of dollars. We need state legislative level advocacy and a unified statewide approach to get the attention of those in charge at the General Assembly. An active letter writing campaign and outreach to other districts’ PTAs would help.

2. We are navigating the Chapel Hill High approval process with the Town of Chapel Hill. We are seeking Town Council assistance in meeting our project approval date, and their assistance financially with required road improvements. Parents and community members should stay engaged as that process unfolds.

3. As a community we need to figure out how to become much more nimble. We started this process in 2009-2010. I knew then that the high school needed a complete overhaul.  Yet the funding and approval process is still occurring and we don’t have a shovel in the ground. It’s eight years later. No wonder the costs have gone up. We still have seven remaining older schools that also need a lot of work: Estes, Phillips, Seawell, Ephesus, Carrboro Elementary, FPG, and Culbreth.  At the rate we are on those won’t be completed for 50 years and someone (it won’t be me) will have to be figuring out how to renovate Chapel Hill High again. A discussion with the commissioners about another bond and additional funding needs to start now and we have to figure out a more expeditious way. This will take significant community engagement and resolve.

The Board, superintendent and staff would like to thank everyone for the input that has been so graciously provided, and the entire school district looks forward to future support as we pursue access to the necessary funding.

The meeting can be seen in its entirety at the following links:

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

North Carolina School Report Cards

Earlier this week, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released school report cards for all public schools in the state. Data for 2016-17 can be found at NC School Report Cards, a completely redesigned (and more user-friendly) website.

North Carolina’s school report cards are an important resource for parents, educators, state leaders, researchers, and others, providing information about school- and district-level data in a number of areas. These include student performance and academic growth, school and student characteristics, and many other details.

The new website allows for side-by-side school comparisons. However, since schools are structured differently from one another in terms of size, grade levels, student populations, and programs offered, the report cards should not be used to rank schools.

Researchers and others who want more detailed data may visit the school report card analytical site at Data downloads are available at

The North Carolina School Report Cards have been produced annually since 2001 to provide information about local schools, districts and overall state data. More information, including answers to frequently asked questions about the report cards, is available at
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Carrboro High Global Cultures Students Experience History in Alabama

“Waking up at 3:30 a.m. certainly isn’t my favorite thing to do on a Sunday morning, but it was definitely worth it for this trip.” So said Ana Leigh, one of the 42 Carrboro High School students in Matt Cone’s Global Cultures classes who traveled to Alabama the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The experience was built around the study of the 2014 book Just Mercy and the work of its author, civil rights and criminal justice lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. However, the trip brought powerful learning and revelations that reached well beyond the hour spent with the noted activist at his non-profit law firm Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). “It wasn’t ‘just a field trip,’” said parent Chris Simmons, a Duke assistant vice-president in Government Relations. “It was a well-thought out, academic experience that required the students to think, prepare and reflect in ways that they aren’t always required to do. Isabel is still talking about the trip, and we have no doubt that her exposure to the issues and people in Alabama will continue to shape her worldview.”
The students wrote journal entries, recording their evolving ideas about history, race and identity, as well as capturing moments of high emotion and humor. One powerful moment of connection is cited in an entry by Simmons’ daughter Isabel, who quoted one of the chaperones, Leah Abrams, a 2016 Carrboro High graduate who now attends Duke. “Leah Abrams’ words really stuck with me. She said that over her time on this Earth, she’s learned that the most important, impactful thing one can do as a White Ally is to sit back, keep their mouth shut, and just listen to the words, thoughts, and ideas, of their peers of color. I thought that sentiment made sense, and it is a strategy I plan to carry with me not only for the rest of the trip, but in my day-to-day life.”
After twelve hours on the bus, students arrived in Selma late Sunday afternoon where they met Joanne Bland, a tour guide with deep roots in the civil rights history of that city. Every single student shared at least a few thoughts about Bland’s impact on their understanding of the March on Selma and Bloody Sunday in 1965; some students filled nearly a page, writing about their guide. “She told everyone to pick up a rock,” wrote Ana Leigh. “To me and everyone else, it seemed a little silly picking up a random rock off of the ground. But then Ms. Bland went on to tell us that that was the rock she and countless other people stood on, on March 7, 1965. The rocks we held in our hands were pieces of history.”
Cameron Farrar wrote about the impact of Bland leading the group across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge. “I left my phone on the bus because I wanted this to be a moment when I connected to (the experience of) being there. Once we got off the bus to start the walk I began crying. It was not that the particular history was one I was unaware of, but because of the fact that I was hearing a first hand description of what took place and the reminder that our country is filled with so much hate that these poor people were not protected, yet folded back into their hometowns and were beaten all through the night.” Bland told her she didn’t have time to cry, “that you must do something about it.” Farrar wrote, “That really settled with me.”
We concluded by coming back to the bridge and lining up two by two to march,” said Niya Fearrington. “It was a catalyst for me because it was like stepping in the steps of past innovators and world changers, and it was if it was confirming and setting me up for all the things to come.”
Curtis Kinnaman wrote, “The bridge was narrower than I expected. As we walked, I attempted to picture what that day was like, what it was like to have police intent on violence riding on horseback trying to chase you and beat you off of the bridge. However, no amount of imagining can even come close to what it was like on that day. The feeling of walking across that bridge was surreal and one I cannot describe. It was quite an extraordinary day and it was eye opening for me in many ways.”
On Monday the students started the day in the company of Elijah Gaddis, a UNC PhD graduate who’s now a professor at Auburn. Gaddis is a public historian, a curator of digital projects, including “A Red Record,” a documentation of lynchings in the American South. Kate Brownstein reflected on how her attitude toward claiming North Carolina as her home state shifted after talking to Gaddis. “Elijah was saying… that being proud of North Carolina does not mean that we are supporting the problems or the bad parts, but we can be proud of good parts, making the point that having pride and also having things that need to be changed are not mutually exclusive.”
An encounter that students recorded with excitement and detail was a random meeting with a middle-aged artist named Frank Hardy. He encountered the group on the streets of Montgomery and after clearing his invitation with Mr. Cone, he led everyone to his painting studio and kept his audience enthralled as he told the story about growing up black, poor and extremely dyslexic in the 1950’s. Many students wrote longer passages about their experience with the artist than they did about any other part of the trip. David Knox wrote, “He talked about how growing up, he didn’t entirely understand the concept of “whiteness” and considered the poor white people around him as just fair-skinned black people. That was a particularly interesting idea for me, as I grew up poor with a similar sort of ignorance/innocence regarding race.”
David Gonzalez-Chavez noted, “The story of Frank’s life was one which inspired me greatly; it showed me how it is possible to chase dreams and achieve them even given extreme hardships.”
From Frank Hardy’s studio, the group walked to the Southern Poverty Law Center and a meeting with its president Richard Cohen. Before their conversation with Cohen, the students toured the Center, and many of them recorded the impact of seeing numerous shelves filled with different colors of soil from the places where lynchings have occurred. “They covered a whole wall and there are still more to come…,” wrote one student.
Cohen’s remarks and exhortations affected some students strongly; he challenged them to comprehend the impact of low voter participation and cited the 100 million voters who didn’t turn out in 2016. Gonzalez-Chavez wrote, “He inspired me to act in whatever ways that I can, to fix the problems within our nation as he explained that the people that primarily brought about change through the Civil Rights Movement were students.”       
The last major event of the tightly scheduled Monday was the visit to Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. Students had studied Just Mercy earlier in the fall; many of them had been moved by the accounts of racial injustice in the book, but students wrote about how hearing Stevenson discuss those same cases in person provided a deeper and more complex meaning. All of the students had crafted and rehearsed questions for Stevenson, though they knew few would be chosen in the time allotted with the author.
“When he started to call on us for questions, I nearly dislocated my shoulder shooting my hand in the air,” wrote Ellanya Atwater. “By the grace of God, he picked me, and I got to ask him my question about the backlash he may have received from the black community because he works for the institution that has historically and continuously oppressed our race. He told me that there are going to be a million people telling me that I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life doing this, but it’s going to be the few people who really need your help who tell you that what you do is important. That makes everything worthwhile.”
Stevenson spoke about the challenges of working in the criminal justice system when most people categorically perceive defendants as guilty or innocent, without understanding other conditions. This led Gonzalez-Chavez to extrapolate, “I saw the error in how I often judged people without considering their prior experiences. I saw how I often failed to contextualize things before I interjected with my own opinion.”
Several students expressed relief and gratitude that Stevenson emphasized the ability to help people and affect change, even without consideration of grades or occupation. Although only five students were able to ask questions, many others remarked on the power of hearing Stevenson’s responses to their peers. Diamond Blue wrote that, after he answered her question, “everything Mr. Stevenson had said to me, completely made me feel stronger, and capable of doing anything.”
“As a teacher, I was pleased to see the students ask such nuanced, raw questions,” Cone said. “At one point, one of Bryan's assistants wiped tears from her eyes because she was so moved by what one of our students shared with Bryan.”  
Afterward, the group gathered on the sidewalk outside EJI and debriefed. The emotions ran high, and a great number of students reflected on the elements of the trip that they perceived to be life-changing. As one student wrote, “After yesterday and today, speaking with all the inspirational people, we all felt a collective urge to go out and change the world. We said time and time again to not let go of this energy, the urge, and the momentum.”
This year's trip was one of the most profound and positive experiences of my career,” Cone said. And judging from the hundred plus pages of student reflections, the trip will be remembered by many as a highlight of their educational lives, an ongoing source of inspiration and clarity.

The Public School Foundation’s funding allowed all interested students to participate in the experience, by covering fees for those who needed financial support. Multiple students noted their gratitude in their journals.

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