Story by Anne McNamara, Upper School Community Service Coordinator and Archivist
The Class of 2021 was able to take advantage of the limitations of the pandemic and worked together to learn more about the community in which they live, even though they had to do so remotely. As difficult as this year was for them, they learned of challenges confronted by many others who face an uncertain future. Students heard from the director of Orange County’s Criminal Justice Resource Center about the disparate outcomes facing those convicted of non-violent crimes when they cannot afford to pay a fine. They learned about Achieve Atlanta’s efforts to improve high school students’ college access and college success through a partnership with Atlanta Public Schools and how systemic racism and poverty can negatively impact the path to high school graduation and college. And they learned about the challenges faced by teenagers their own age and in their own hometown from the director of Life Skills, a Durham nonprofit serving young adults who age out of foster care and need housing, employment, resources and education.
Learning about these opportunity gaps and then hearing from community leaders who work to bring change provided a foundation for students to develop a response through their senior projects. Great latitude was provided in large part because of limitations of COVID-19, which prevented meeting with community partners in person. Students were asked to develop a project that dealt with an opportunity gap from one of three foundation areas — criminal justice, education and poverty, or homelessness and foster care. Formats could be varied — a poem, an essay, a letter to the editor, an infographic, a website, a podcast. The results were as varied as the class themselves — ranging from identifying opportunity gaps in the criminal justice system, creating a criminal justice resource website and creating an infographic with tips on how to apply to college. Every senior completed a senior project.