Dear Northern Highlands Board of Education:
We write to you not only as a group of 15 Northern Highlands graduates, but also as representatives of the hundreds of students, alumni, parents, and teachers who acknowledged via a survey that the racial justice education received at our High School is severely inadequate.
Our community is predominantly white, wealthy, and privileged. Many of us do not fear the police. Many of us have access to good healthcare and we enjoy the benefits of good infrastructure. Given this unique context, it is imperative that our students learn and understand that this experience is not the reality for countless fellow Americans, especially people of color.
It is important to acknowledge that our school is considered one of the best-performing in the state. We thank you for your role in educating us to be the bold, skilled, and empathetic individuals we are today.
However, after leaving Northern Highlands, we each had to reckon with the realization that our knowledge of, and familiarity with, racial injustice was gravely lacking. We found ourselves ignorant of implicit bias, the structural reality of institutional racism, and the vast extent of racial inequities.
Why do we learn about these issues via podcasts instead of from an award-winning four-year high school education? Hundreds of members of our community agree that there is an inexcusable gap in the education we received: the failure to adequately expose students to the reality of racial injustices in America and our community and the failure to equip students with the tools to change them.
Racial education at Highlands begins with slavery and ends with Jim Crow. Our curriculum not only fails to unearth the broader range of historical racial issues—such as redlining—but also fails to inform students of the decisive and structural role that race actively plays in the lives of many Americans today through higher rates of incarceration, health disparities, wage and wealth gaps, and police brutality.
Being “stigma-free” is not enough. Northern Highlands failed to make the members of our community who are people of color (POC) feel safe and welcome.
The subtle reality of micro-aggressions, flawed infrastructure, and unequal opportunities was barely, if ever, discussed within our classrooms. A survey of over 350 students, alumni, parents, teachers, and faculty concluded that 95% of our community feels the same way: Northern Highlands needs more formal training for their students and teachers on race, implicit bias, and systemic oppression.
Northern Highlands’ own mission statement aims to “encourage students to appreciate and contribute to our culturally diverse society” and “promote pride in ourselves and our community.”
To truly meet these goals, the school must do more than neutrally and invisibly stand with Black Americans. Northern Highlands must actively stand against racism by regularly bringing discussions of the role race plays in modern America into the classroom, providing extracurricular programming that directly educates students on how to address their own bias, and providing structured support to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) at Northern Highlands.
We have outlined three concrete actions for the school to take to begin to address this issue. Over the coming days, we will provide additional resources related to how organizations around the country have successfully executed against each of the above three actions. We will also be sharing stories from members of our community of how race has impacted their own lives.
We look forward to lending our support to the Board in developing an immediate plan for action.
Northern Highlands Alumni Action Committee (NHAAC)