High School Students Tackle Big Issues with Meaningful Conversations

In Carmel High School’s SUNY: Racism, Classism, Sexism course, students are tackling issues head-on with meaningful conversations, actions and ideas. The course, team-taught by social studies teachers Eric Frink and Kerry Hackert, is a partnership with SUNY Albany and provides Carmel High School students with college credits for successful completion.

Student sits at a computer with other students from a Zoom projected on the screen

The class focuses on hard, unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable topics including racial inequalities, sexism, ableism and more, and provides an environment for students to have open discussions. Whether it is a discussion on the growing recognition of people of different genders today or sexism and the Me Too movement, these conversations have a big impact.

“Having difficult conversations is one of the staples of the course and exposing kids of all different mindsets to look at things,” said Frink. “It’s about understanding human beings and looking at things that you aren’t exposed to and feeling a little uncomfortable with it.”

Frink sees that the students have embraced this course and have run with it.

“This class has led to open discussions which have helped widen my mindset on current issues which are not discussed as often outside of school,” said senior student Jennifer Jimenez-Bautista. “There has not been much progression on many current issues due to not being able to have these necessary conversations, and this class allows for that.”

Last month, the class spent time looking at the legal system, lynching and racial disparities and watched the documentary, “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality.” Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Ala. The class discussed the film and had the opportunity to join a Zoom call with the film's producers to ask questions and learn more.

As a next step in their studies, the class is deeply exploring stereotypes, micro- and macro-aggressions, and diving into the question of why there is racism in the country. One lesson will have students analyzing poetry and other writings that have biases, stereotypes and racism built in them. The class will also explore the issues surrounding ableism this semester and have the opportunity to hear directly from those in the special education department at the school.

“One lesson I have taken away from this class is that we all have a story,” said senior student Amanda Hunt. “Everyone is affected by these topics because we all experience them either personally or through the eyes of a loved one. Everyone has experiences and unique perspectives that provide depth and greater understanding to a discussion and allow for greater representation during class conversation.”

“I have learned so much from this class already, but the most important lesson was equality and equity,” said senior student Anna McKee. “The message of equality and justice is very prevalent in this class, and I am happy that I am a part of it this year."

For Frink and Hackert, these topics and discussions are not only happening in this designated course, but also find ground in the other history courses they teach. Even those students who are not in this course are benefiting from these important conversations.

“The students want to be here, and they want to learn,” said Frink. “They are walking away from this class with a better understanding, and not just sitting on the sidelines but doing something about it.”