WUOMFM

Rural high schoolers cross the state to meet peers in Dearborn. The goal? “Humanize each other."

Feb 1, 2017

As neighborhoods and thus schools become more segregated, there are teachers who have decided to confront that head-on. They're not waiting for a grand solution from our leaders to appear.

They know it's easy to get along with people who look like you, and think like you, but they want to prepare their students for a world that is increasingly diverse.

Lauren Robinson is a teacher at Hamilton High School, a rural school near Holland. Zeinab Chami teaches at Fordson High School in Dearborn.

The two worked together to plan a unique field trip happening tomorrow: Robinson will bring her students to Dearborn to visit the Arab-American National Museum and then to Fordson High School to sit down and talk with Chami's students.

"The goal of it ... is to increase empathy amongst our students and to help them to understand that different cultures don't mean 'bad' and different cultures should be embraced."

Robinson described her school of about 800 kids as "pretty homogenous." The numbers back that up.

Based on last year's Racial Census Report from the Michigan Department of Education, Hamilton Community Schools is nearly 90% white. As a result, Robinson said her kids don't get a lot of exposure to different cultures and ethnicities. To try to give her kids some of that exposure, she created the "Culture in America" class and decided to take them on a field trip to her hometown, Dearborn.

"The goal of it ... is to increase empathy amongst our students and to help them to understand that different cultures don't mean 'bad' and different cultures should be embraced," Robinson said. "In our country, we have so much exposure and so many amazing people and thoughts and ideas, and they aren't all like our own and that really is a great thing to be celebrated."

Fordson, on the other hand, could be considered homogenous in a different way. Chami described her school of about 2,700 students as roughly 95% Arab-American. Nearly half the school is considered "English learners," and there's a growing African-American and Latino population.

"White people are not a monolith. Arabs are not a monolith. We all have more in common as human beings than we have differences"

The school was built in the 1920's by Henry Ford. It was the country's first million-dollar high school.

But while the school had a million-dollar origin story, the vast majority of the current students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

The trip

When the two sets of students meet, teachers will facilitate a conversation through small group activities. The goal is to give the kids an opportunity to interact and to learn about each other.

"The takeaway from all of this is that every human is an individual," Chami said. "Stories have the power to humanize and when we have the chance to tell our stories to one another, as individuals, face to face, it's probably the most powerful thing in the world. So, what I want my kids to take home, as well as Lauren's kids, is that everybody's different. White people are not a monolith. Arabs are not a monolith. We all have more in common as human beings than we have differences."

Listen to the full interview above to learn of concerns some Hamilton parents had about the trip and about how both teachers plan to grow the "seed" this program plants in their kids.

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or with this RSS link)