Staff editorial – Class color T-shirts: Harmless fun or creator of division?

I like wearing my class color shirt just as much as any student. It’s fun to get all decked out in green and be proud of my sophomore status. However, when I really think about it, wearing these shirts seems to contradict what we stand for as a school. The message we are sending, that Highland Park is separate, just isn’t right. With class colors, it isn’t about Highland Park as a school, it’s seniors against freshmen, sophomores against juniors, upperclassmen against lowerclassmen. I’m not saying a little class rivalry can’t be fun sometimes, but wearing these shirts ingrains a negative message into our minds.

Our grade differences shouldn’t be such an emphasis, especially during spirit week, when it is time for Highland Park to celebrate our school and show our Scot spirit. It isn’t about freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior spirit. “Instead of working as a school, we work as grades… Eliminating class color shirts could help unify the school instead of individual grade separation,” says Akira Callahan, a freshman. It seems to be contradictory that administration constantly reminds students not to yell the traditional “Go home freshmen!” or participate in marking, and yet grade separation is promoted through class color shirts. Freshmen are bright, yellow targets in their shirts. This sends a very confusing message to students if we are both encouraged to be inclusive, yet are so easily reminded of a difference that drives a lot of negativity.

Another problem with class color shirts is that they become outdated after a year. Most students will buy four shirts that they will never wear again. Jonas Buck, a Highland Park junior, does not buy a class color shirt for this reason. “It’s ten dollars for a shirt that you’re going to wear for maybe nine months. It’s just not worth it for me,” says Jonas.

I looked into the use of class color shirts at some other schools near Highland. The sophomore Jack McKenna transferred to Highland after a year at Nova Classical Academy. Nova does not have class color shirts. At Highland, he notices the grade conflict, especially surrounding freshmen. He agreed that class color shirts could be a contributor to this. Kate Grumbles, a sophomore at Cretin Derham Hall, says that CDH does not have official school-sanctioned shirts. In the past, class colors were a part of spirit week, but they are no longer encouraged by the administration. At Central High School, sophomore Brendan Tickle says there are no class color shirts. Kieran McDonald, a Highland Park sophomore, says his previous school, Saint Paul Academy, doesn’t have class color shirts either. According to Kieran, the school also has less problems with the negativity associated between grades. However, Kieran thinks this isn’t related to the shirts. He says, “I think it makes no difference. SPA and Highland are just different groups of kids.”

However, there are still schools that have class color shirts. Sam Sukar, a Highland sophomore, says the school she previously attended, Eastern Hills High School in Texas, had class color shirts. This leads a person to wonder whether grade barriers are as prominent of an issue, like it is at Highland, at schools that also have class color shirts. According to South High sophomore Izzy Rousmaniere, students at her school are discouraged, and even restricted from wearing class color shirts during pep fest because of the problems they have had with grade conflict in the past. She says, “I think they’re cool and fun and build solidarity I guess. But a lot of people use them to differentiate themselves from other grades, which is just rude and pointless.”

In previous years, we wore the class color shirts at the pep fest during homecoming week. However, similarly to South, the Highland Park Student Council made the decision to change this, so now all students wear red for pep fest. Senior Nguyen Lu, Student Council President explains. “Student Council executive board had a meeting with our administrators and we discussed how we could improve on school unity and spirit… We believed that class color created a barrier between the students. During every pep fest, the classes would be booing one another… After much more discussion we decided to make the first homecoming pep fest a school spirit day. We believed that homecoming pep fest should be about encouraging one another instead of dividing.”

I think that as a school, Highland needs to take the next step forward and rethink having class color shirts at all. Most teachers say these class color shirts have been a part of Highland for as long as they can remember. Maybe, it’s time for change. If we have to designate between classes, let’s just have class color shirts that are all the same color with the class’s graduation year written on the back because they would be reusable. Except, seniors should keep their special customized shirts as they deserve to stand out, and be recognized for their time at Highland.

Remember: we are ALL students of Highland Park! Every senior, junior, sophomore, and freshman make up our student body. We should stand united as a school. Think about this next time you wear your class color shirt.

Staff Editorial – School lunch and NAAPID collide

According to the Saint Paul Public Schools website, National African American Parent Involvement Day (NAAPID) is “a day for parents to come to their child’s school, see what their day is like and to support their child’s educational future.” The goals for NAAPID are:

Promote parent involvement in their child’s education.

Address the serious achievement gap facing African American students.

Promote and provide strategies for parents and students to take full advantage of the educational process at all levels of the educational system (preschool through college).

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort by the district in taking serious steps to address the educational predicaments that impact the African American community. I myself identify as an African American and am proud of my racial identity. I was adopted at an early age and raised by middle class white parents in a loving and stable household. I don’t face many of the challenges that my African American peers do, however I am not blind to the factors within the public school system that disproportionally have a negative impact on people of my race. Having things like NAAPID are a good step in the direction of eliminating the achievement gap for African American students.

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(Image Source: https://ns.spps.org/uploads/2013-2014_menus_dblue_3.pdf)

That said, there is something about NAAPID that is bothering me. When it comes to school lunch, Saint Paul Public Schools has three main menus. One for SPPS elementary schools, one for the middle schools, and one for the high schools. On Monday on secondary campuses, the items being served for lunch are as follows: BBQ Chicken Drumsticks, Corn Bread, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Chicken Corn Dog , Baked Beans, and other offerings. At middle schools, BBQ Chicken Drumsticks w/ Corn Bread is the only option, where at the high schools who have more food serving capacity, the chicken drumsticks is the “Daily Dish” option. On Monday’s calendar square on the menu, there is text on the side that says “African American Parent Involvement Day.” As soon as I found this out, I got an uneasy feeling. As many know, a common stereotype of African Americans, among other things, is that they have a love of chicken and other soul food items such as corn bread. Immediately upon finding this out, I did an analysis of SPPS lunch menus on both secondary and middle school campuses going back to September 2013 and found that this meal has never been served previously, specifically the items cornbread or BBQ chicken drumsticks. “Rotisserie drumsticks” are served often, however I have never seen nor do the menus indicate BBQ chicken ever having been served. As a student who purchases school lunch almost every day, I have no recollection of ever seeing cornbread being served as a meal option, nor BBQ chicken drumsticks.

What makes me wonder even more is the specific inclusion of “African American Parent Involvement Day” on the physical menu. Why place that on a lunch menu alongside food offerings that coincidentally align with common stereotypes of African Americans? May it have been intended or not, the mere thought of racial stereotypes being provoked is something that shouldn’t be happening. During my research for this article, I stumbled upon a very recent case regarding school lunch and Black History Month that happened at a school in California (bit.ly/1bu28DH). The school announced it was planning on serving fried chicken, cornbread, and watermelon at lunch to celebrate Black History Month. Understandably, members of the community stood up and spoke out and as a result, administration apologized and the school is planning on holding a diversity assembly to further address the issue.

My hope is that this either was an oversight by the SPPS Nutrition Department or something that was well intentioned to celebrate NAAPID, however not in my opinion aligning with the spirit of celebrating and promoting African American student achievement. I hope that in the future, the school district continues to recognize African American students in a positive and celebratory fashion without accidentally perpetuating cultural stereotypes.

James Farnsworth is a member of the Class of 2016 at Highland.

You can contact the HP Plaid Line team at: hpshplaidline@gmail.com