Words: Sasha Allen and Emily Hollwedel
*Editor’s Note: April 1, 2019–This article has been modified to reflect the correct date of the second exchange, April 3. A previous version stated that it was April 4.*
About a year ago, Wilde Lake senior Rachel Henry was going about her usual day when she was struck with an idea.
“I originally thought of the differences between specifically Wilde Lake and Glenelg,” Henry shared. “I would sit and look at race, [Free and Reduced Meals], and test score comparisons. They’re so drastically different that I don’t even know how it’s possible with a school only 20 minutes away. I sent an email to a few Board Members, and the principals of both Wilde Lake and Glenelg to see if I could go to Glenelg for a day.”
It wasn’t easy. Henry encountered some difficulties in trying to implement her idea. “It was immediately shot down by my principal, who was supportive but certain it was against policy,” recalled Henry. “A month or so later, I got a call in the front office from Cindy Drummond, advisor of Howard County Association of Student Councils, saying that the board latched on to my idea.”
The idea of the program is simple: students are given the chance to connect with new people and experience different schools in Howard County.
On Wednesday, March 27, participating Wilde Lake students will travel to Glenelg, and Long Reach students will go to Centennial. On April 3, participating Glenelg students will go to Wilde Lake, and Centennial students will go to Long Reach. On the days of the exchanges, the students will attend classes until fifth period, where they will meet with school liaisons and debrief.
Henry highlighted the differences between these schools, specifically between Wilde Lake and Glenelg. “When I see 46% African American, 25% white, and 13% Hispanic, in Wilde Lake’s stats, I think diverse. But when I look at Glenelg’s 76.2% white, and a number over 5% can’t even be conclusive for any other race but Asian, at 11%, I think of segregation.”
Henry is no stranger to being perceived as different from others.
“My dad is black and my mom is white, and I honestly don’t know if places other than where I’ve gone are as accepting of that,” she said. “I am also a practicing Jew, so in that aspect I am also different.”
James LeMon, Director of Community, Parent, and School Outreach in Howard County, expressed his excitement for the program to be in place. He was vital in the implementation of Henry’s idea.
“I’m just excited that we are taking a student’s idea and we are going to make it happen,” LeMon stated. “I think it is a great opportunity for the kids to experience a day in the life of a different school, culture, get to meet some other students.”
As for the goals of the program, both Henry and LeMon hope the experience will unify the schools and students.
“What I want for students, including myself, is to stop thinking of pre-conceived notions about schools in our own county,” shared Henry. “I go to Glenelg on Wednesday, and to be completely honest, I’m terrified. Four boys got arrested there last year for racist and anti-semitic graffiti. Being mixed, and Jewish, those hate crimes directly pertained to me.”
LeMon had a similar notion about the ideas that students in Howard County have about other schools.
“Every school has a different culture, and I think the goal was just to experience the day in the life of another student in Howard County,” said LeMon.
Henry’s ideas are now in effect in not just her own school, but in multiple. She hopes that this can end up being a county-wide opportunity.
“This group of 20 students who get to experience another school for the day are going to bring back this information to their schools and spread it,” said Henry. “I just hope lasting impressions are made, and people are truly in this experience to see what it’s like to be at different schools.”
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