The Shift to In-Person
BY AVA WONG '23
“[O]ur community has significant healing to do right now. How can we heal if we aren't able to come together as a community?” For years, tremors of hate have rocked the ABRHS community. Words of racism, antisemitism, and homophobia are etched into the bathroom stalls and on banisters. As students come together fully in-person for the first time this year, the call for unity grows louder.
The recent plans for a new schedule directly resulted from the administration’s prioritization of full in-school learning. On March 5, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education granted Commissioner Jeffrey Riley approval to restore in-person learning to five days a week. ABRHS returned to a full in-person learning schedule on May 3. However, reports of yet another hate incident dismantled hopes for a completely smooth transition. Shortly after announcing the return to full in-person learning, the school notified students and parents of antisemitic graffiti found in the high school bathrooms. The next week, following the Atlanta shootings that killed six Asian women, the school released yet another email and included an informational presentation made by AB’s chapter of Dear Asian Youth. Many students have expressed disdain for the school’s responses to acts of hate from both inside and out of the district. Emails stating that the community does not condone racism seem like placating measures that result from a failure to follow through with effective actions to counteract these incidents of hate.
Indeed, many community members feel that the hate incidents appear to be brushed over as the school tackles transitioning back to in-person school. Following the week of the Atlanta shootings, the school found more graffiti, and little changed at ABRHS. At the beginning of the same week, there was a fifty-minute extended advisory for a seminar on sexting, an issue that reportedly affects 22% of AB students. However, throughout all the racist incidents this year—local or national—the administration did not extend advisory for an in-depth webinar or presentation on racism, even with 47.2% of students identifying as people of color.
In the two days following the Atlanta shootings, faculty attempted to facilitate conversations on racism and anti-Asian sentiment to give students a place to share their thoughts. The school also provided a video during advisory on the effects of the model minority stereotype on all communities of color. Though these attempts were well-intentioned, the school’s efforts fell short once more. Most accounts of discussions were brief or non-existent, and after advisory, hopelessness and exhaustion rang out louder than the morning announcements. This highlights an insufficient focus on racial justice within the district—an issue that requires time to address. The school’s inadequate responses disappointed many members of the community.
Students and teachers alike weigh worries with excitement, further dividing our community as we return to school. The consensus among the student body has favored the return because it eliminates Zoom days and advisory calls. Moreover, it has allowed for people to be in closer contact with those in the opposite cohort. Similarly, teachers have welcomed the change as it has replaced less productive asynchronous days with full lessons. However, teachers are wary of students not practicing safety measures effectively. While coming back to normal school is mostly beneficial, worries about increased exposure and transmission of COVID-19 circulate in tandem with increasing concerns about the culture of hate at AB. The phrase “Hate is Also a Virus” has become increasingly popular since the beginning of the pandemic, and studies show that hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased severely. The hate that pollutes Acton-Boxborough is evident. The merging of the cohorts not only increases risks of the virus spreading but has also allowed more opposing views to collide.
Emotions and fears ran high during the transition to in-person school, and there is no doubt that this past year of isolation has changed us all in one way or another. “We're all struggling in different ways given that so much of our efforts have been put into surviving this past year,” says Kendra Kerzee, a Spanish teacher at ABRHS, acknowledging the challenges of this past year. Coming out of a communal time of fear and unpredictability may be the best thing that happened to this community. The shared experience of the pandemic could force unity in our community and, more importantly, motivate it to dedicate itself to radical improvement.
As we arise from a time of physical isolation, many hope that we will unite as a community against hate. “How can we heal if we aren't able to come together as a community in full force?” says David Green, a social studies teacher at AB. He believes that “social interactions are every bit as critical as academic learning, and again, there is just no substitute in the Zoom zone.” Green continues, “As our view becomes wider, it will be interesting to see how we conceptualize this year in the larger context of [the] United States and global history.” His insight renders the question: how will our AB community remember this period of time? Currently, hate and fear stain the benchmark events of this year. But, even with only a few weeks left in the school year, it is not too late to take steps toward active, effective change. Change is not easy or convenient, and it cannot be fit into a twenty-six-minute advisory or a lengthy email. The change our school community so desperately needs must consist of a united effort to acknowledge, educate, and reform all aspects of our community. As the center of our community, ABRHS has a responsibility to step beyond awareness and towards educating its students and implementing transparency when it comes to disciplining acts of hate. With each step forward towards physical unity, it is more apparent than ever that the community is just at the beginning of truly coming together.