HCPSS: Desegregation and Racial Equality

February is Black History Month, and students throughout our system are learning about people and events that have shaped America’s progress in providing equitable opportunities for all. Today, Howard County is considered a model community, known for welcoming families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Our county and school system have come a long way, and many people struggled for years to integrate our school system and instill the inclusive practices that we value today. Our current county leaders remain committed to the cause of civil liberties. Both Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and former Howard County Council member/former HCPSS Board of Education member Courtney Watson continue to uphold a proud family legacy of civil rights advocacy. Guest blogger Mark J. Stout, Ph.D., curriculum coordinator of Advanced Placement and Secondary Social Studies, provides a historical perspective of segregation in Howard County schools.

mstoutGuest blogger Dr. Mark J. Stout currently serves as curriculum coordinator for Advanced Placement and Secondary Social Studies for the Howard County Public School System. He holds a Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Maryland College Park, with an undergraduate degree in Geography from UMBC. He began his career as a middle school social studies teacher, and has worked as a resource teacher for social studies and as a facilitator for professional development. He also served as president and executive director of the Maryland Council for the Social Studies and coordinator for two Teaching American History Grant projects.

The Howard County Public School System recently posted its annual school profile report, which reflects a widely diverse school system in terms of both ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Families flock to Howard County because it has a reputation for acceptance, and because the school system is considered among the best in the nation. HCPSS has consistently demonstrated steady academic growth among all student groups, high graduation rates, and high percentages of students continuing their education beyond high school. This hopeful scenario was not always the case for Howard County.

In 1954, the Supreme Court delivered the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed public school segregation by race. More than 60 years later, HCPSS embodies the spirit of this decision – ethnically diverse schools with access to outstanding educational experiences for all. It is doubtful that many citizens are aware of the difficult road that the county experienced in providing equal educational access to all students. It is indeed a past that we must remember in order to contextualize the present.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision in 2004, the HCPSS Office of Secondary Social Studies worked to develop a series of lessons for social studies classes. These lessons helped students understand the struggles that key citizens experienced in their efforts to desegregate the school system. In conducting the background research, we uncovered a revealing story of racism, injustice, struggle, and perseverance.

According to the “History of Blacks in Howard County, Maryland” (Howard County Branch, NAACP, 1986), the first mention of “colored schools” in Howard County appears in the minutes of the Board of Education from Feb. 7, 1871. In a revealing statement that foreshadows much of the next 100 years, it states, “On motion it was resolved that each school commissioner distribute the school books of the old series in their possession if required to the colored schools in their district.” This pattern of neglect resulted in a second-class school system for people of color, with subpar facilities, no educational opportunities past grade 7 until 1939, teachers paid less than those in white schools, and no bus transportation.

When Brown became the law of the land in June 1954, the HCPSS Board of Education stated that it was “impractical” to begin desegregation until 1956. It was not until May 1, 1956 that the Board officially desegregated grades 1-5, with families forced to apply in person and with separate transportation facilities. Beginning in 1957, all grades were to be desegregated, but at the pace of merely one grade per year. This was hardly in the spirit of the law and in direct conflict with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren’s appeal to do so “with all deliberate speed.”

Although all grades were desegregated by 1964, segregated schools remained and many black students were educated in facilities with no white students. In June 1964, NAACP Howard County Branch President Silas E. Craft and Robert H. Kittleman, chairman of that group’s education committee, delivered an impassioned statement to the Board requesting an end to all segregated schools. With two new Board members as a result of a recent expansion (including future Howard County Executive Ed Cochran), the Board voted to integrate Guilford Elementary School in June 1965. As Cochran noted upon reflection in 2004, “With these actions, the era of segregated public schools in Howard County ended.”

Ironically, during the same time that Howard County was struggling to achieve racial equality in its schools, James Rouse began acquiring land to develop the model city of Columbia. An important part of the vision for Columbia was to develop a community that was racially, culturally, and economically diverse. In another interesting twist that demonstrates connections between the past and present, both candidates for Howard County Executive in 2014 were children of two important figures in the final struggle to integrate the schools of Howard County. Allan Kittleman is the son of Robert Kittleman, and Courtney Watson is the daughter of Ed Cochran. Students may also be aware of the Silas Craft Collegians Program at Howard Community College, but unaware that the man who inspired the program played a key role in this civil rights battle.

On Nov. 15, 2012, the Board of Education officially apologized for its role in slowing the desegregation of the Howard County Public School System. In attendance were many who lived through the era of segregated schools, as well as students of our current schools. It is imperative that our students understand our past, both the celebratory and the shameful, in order to appreciate the diverse classrooms that they have the good fortune to attend today.

Authentic Voices In and Beyond the Classroom

rvanwesterveltGuest blogger Rus VanWestervelt, a Centennial High School teacher, has been teaching writing in Howard County public schools since 2003. He also is a columnist for the Towson Times, an adjunct professor of writing at Towson University, and holds statewide workshops and conferences in journaling, publishing, and empowerment through writing. You can read his selected works at www.baltimorewriter.wordpress.com.

In a typical Howard County classroom, a student listens to her English teacher sharing the details of a writing assignment about fear. The first draft is due at the end of the week.

The student remembers seeing something come across her newsfeed from Little Patuxent Review (LPR) about a publishing opportunity, and she opens the app on her phone to review the submission guidelines.

It’s the same contest that the teacher posted outside of her room last week, and it’s a perfect fit for the assignment she’s just been given.

She goes right to her Daybook and flips back to that brainstorming activity she did in the beginning of the year. She finds a perfect coming-of-age story, a seemingly average tale of going to the movies with her friends. She knows the deeper story, though. It was the first time her parents let her go to the movies alone after some guy in Colorado opened fire on a theater filled with moviegoers.

She pushed to go as a means of independence and breaking away from mom and dad; once she was there, though, the fear was so great that she couldn’t even watch the movie. Her terror had consumed her.

She turns to a fresh page in her Daybook and starts writing a raw draft. It will be a fine piece for the school assignment, and she knows it will be an important piece for a larger audience, should LPR pick it up.

At the end of class, she waits for her peers to exit the room, each receiving a nod or acknowledgment from the teacher standing by the door. When it is finally her turn, she smiles and says, “Do you already know what you are going to write about?”

The teacher holds up two fingers. “I have narrowed it down to two: when I was hit by a drunk driver and when I discovered that I was going to be a mom. Fear was definitely a part of those experiences. You?”

She holds up one finger. “Movie theater. With friends. Right after that Colorado tragedy.”

“Powerful,” the teacher responds.

“Yeah. I think it’s time to write about that. I think I’m ready.”

The student heads to class, already thinking that her next essay could be about the courage she needs to write this piece. Maybe that will be the next prompt, she wonders, and disappears around the corner.

This scenario is happening often in many Howard County classrooms, where students and teachers are both writing for publication. Not only is the teacher modeling the importance of sharing ideas and words with an audience that reaches deeply into the school’s community, she also is supporting students who want to do something now in effecting change through the sharing of ideas.

For example, Cecilia Hsu is a junior at Centennial High. As she works on her own writing, she posts new writing and publishing opportunities to a bulletin board in the English hallway. The current call for submissions is for The Blue Pencil Online, a student-edited publication for students ages 18 and under, organized by the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts.

In the coming months, Hsu plans on reading at one of the open mic coffeehouses at school, where student-writers share their work, many for the first time. Participating in the open mic allows the students to take the risks that help them overcome the fears that have held them back–even in the classroom.

Hsu and other students get their encouragement from teachers who seek out publication as well. First, you have the bloggers. Science teacher Noel Pauller writes and produces original videos for his students and anybody else interested in science. Second, are teachers who work on collaborative pieces, like educators Bob Leiby and Eric Reisman. They are publishing some of their best teaching practices, both online and in print, with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Third, you have the book-length authors. History teacher Rod McCaslin has penned several books, written introductions, and published many articles on local, national, and international literature and history.

What do all of these writers–students and teachers alike–have in common? They find purpose in sharing their ideas, beliefs, and creative constructions with a larger audience, thus providing authenticity and originality to the bigger discussions that are occurring both in and beyond the classroom. Additionally, they seek out regional publications like LPR that also educate young writers about the business of writing and publishing.

We are already thinkers and writers; now we can be published authors. We must continue to model for our colleagues and peers that what we have to say is essential; our voices should be a permanent contribution to the historical record of our 21st century lives.