After gathering feedback from more than 500 students, the Charlottesville Youth Council compiled several suggestions to solve equity issues and presented them at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Some of the suggestions include eliminating the city school division’s gifted education program, Quest, as well as standard and advanced diplomas; providing free PSAT, SAT and advanced placement prep courses for students; diversifying AP courses; offering more food options at lunch; and having a more inclusive environment for English for Speakers of Other Languages program students.
The Youth Council had previously presented its findings at the May 2 Charlottesville School Board meeting. At that meeting, former teacher and University of Virginia doctoral student Margaret Thornton gave a presentation on Quest that, according to her thesis, came out of an interest in preserving some vestiges of segregation.
Youth Opportunity Coordinator Daniel Fairley II said to Charlottesville Tomorrow that this year’s Youth Council presentation focused on equity issues. Last year, racial inequalities came to the forefront after an article by the New York Times and ProPublica focused on Quest.
The school system overall is 43% white, 37% black and 11% Hispanic, but 73% of students in Quest are white, 13% are black and 5% are Hispanic students. The district had hosted forums with school staff and teachers to discuss plans on making improvements, but it needed to get the students’ opinions, Fairley said.
“No matter what we do as a community, no matter how we may feel or how our experience was when we were in school, the only people who are affected by this are our students,” Fairley said. “We need to make sure that their voice is involved.”
Referring to the focus group, 16-year-old Ben Yates said at the meeting that all the recommendations are equally important. But discussions about diversifying AP courses lingered, he said.
“A lack of representation by people who are not white translates to a feeling of white students are going to the big Ivy League colleges,” Yates said. “It’s a sense that if you aren’t white, you aren’t privileged, then you don’t really have the same opportunities.”
Fairley said students usually make friends in class as they work on school projects or become study partners.
“If all the people of color or most of the people of color are inside the academic classes and most white people are inside of advanced classes, you kind of continue to build on that stratification,” he said.
Superintendent Rosa Atkins said at the School Board meeting that she will recommend changes to Quest in June. The School Board is set to hold a retreat in Richmond on May 31 and June 1, and its next regular meeting is scheduled for June 13.