A viral video recently spread across the internet showing middle school students chanting “build that wall” - a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a physical barrier across America’s border with Mexico. Other students are visibly upset as the chant continues.
And then, just a couple days ago at the same school, a noose was found in a boys’ bathroom.
This isn’t happening in some far off place. This was Royal Oak Middle School.
How can parents, school administrators, and kids deal with the tension and turbulence that this election has created? How can communities heal?
Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson and Bridge Magazine reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey speak with Alicia Ramon, the mother of the Royal Oak Middle School student who captured the video of the “build that wall” chant. Ramon is also the former CEO of Latino Family Services.
“It was upsetting,” says Ramon. “As a parent, you expect to send your child to school, you entrust that school with your most valued possession, and you want them to be safe. And you don’t want your child to come home or your student to come home and be afraid, as well, or feel bad or intimidated.”
She says she thinks having a more diverse teaching and administrative staff would help prevent these kinds of situations in the future, especially in a community like Royal Oak, which is more than 90 percent white.
“I think that it’s important that we have educators that are not just reflective of the student body, in this instance we need to have educators at a higher percentage,” she says, ”because two things happen, one is the child feels embraced and can, in a sense, relate, but then also, organically, those educators begin to help your administrators and also the other teachers.”
Ramon says she’s encouraged by the school’s handling of the most recent incident with the noose, saying it acted much quicker and in a more transparent manner.
“I don’t think the incidents are going to stop across the United States,” she says. ”I think that it’s important for us to understand them and how do we as parents engage along with our district and along with our greater community to keep all of our children safe.”
Henderson also speaks with Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.
“The time to deal with school climate is not when an issue happens,” says Wigent. ”It needs to be in place. And then when issues do happen, hopefully they can be taken care of immediately.”
“Our job is not only help children learn, but it’s to help children learn in a very safe environment,” he says. “And we know children won’t learn to their capacity if they’re intimidated or if they’re bullied.”
Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.