Valley Parents: Randolph Union High students work  to inform, engage peers about equity; make changes in education

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    Randolph Union High School student Ploy Intaradet creates "Black Lives Matter," "Amplify Black Voices" and "Stay Woke" t-shirts as part of the school's Racial Justice class in Randolph, Vt. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

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    From left, Randolph Union High School students Jordan Stevens, Chandler Anderson and Finnea Abdessalam create a "Stay Woke" t-shirt design as part of the school's Racial Justice class in Randolph, Vt. (Courtesy photograph)

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    From left, Randolph Union High School students Jordan Stevens, Chandler Anderson and Finnea Abdessalam create a "Stay Woke" t-shirt design as part of the school's Racial Justice class in Randolph, Vt. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photographs

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    An "Amplify Black Voices" t-shirt design is part of Randolph Union High School's Racial Justice class in Randolph, Vt. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley Parents Correspondent
Published: 5/20/2021 12:35:04 PM
Modified: 5/20/2021 12:35:01 PM

RANDOLPH — For the 12 students in Randolph Union High School’s racial justice project-based learning class, action is a crucial component in their education.

This school year, the students have launched a website with resources, a blog, a forum and a shop to sell screen-printed items with all proceeds going to the Every Town BIPOC Land Trust and the SUSU commUNITY Farm. Last June, the students organized Randolph’s Black Lives Matter march. In 2019, they led efforts to permanently fly the Black Lives Matter flag at their school and hosted Vermont’s first student-led anti-racism conference, which 200 people from 20 schools attended.

“I take the class because racism is a very prevalent issue in our community and it’s the least I can do,” junior Chandler Anderson said of the racial justice class. “It’s an opportunity for students to do some actual work and positive anti-racism work and get educated.”

He added that prior to the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag in 2019, students did not have an outlet for their desires for a more just and equitable school, community and state.

“The class is important because a lot of the kids in the class wouldn’t know where to go or where to start if we wanted to do some extra work and I think it gives a great platform for that,” Anderson said.

Anderson was one of six current and former RUHS students in a group chat that began planning the Randolph march in June 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. He added that he hopes the class can be a catalyst toward popping the bubble of whiteness in the school and small town where many are blind to issues of racism, or are willfully ignorant.

“If we can educate ourselves in the class and educate others in our community that are part of the functioning machine of white supremacy here in Vermont,” Anderson said. “As someone who is a cog in the machine of white supremacy and who lives here and has experienced this stuff my whole life, it’s our responsibility.”

Senior Christin Nolan was one of three Randolph Union students on a panel for the Vermont Principals’ Association and the Equity Initiative of Vermont in March. She presented to educators and principals from around the state about racial justice and equity in the schools.

“I feel like that was an important thing because it was a way for us to have our voices heard,” Nolan said. “And to give us incentive to do it, we got paid for it. I feel like it was a good motivation to be brave and speak out about our own personal experiences and the work that we’ve done.”

The panel took place over two days. During the first day, the youth panel was posed questions about what obstacles were in place at schools that prevented people from doing equity, diversity and inclusion work. They were also asked what principals and administrators could do to assist and improve the work that was already being done. The second day consisted of small group discussions, unpacking the first day’s questions, answers and thoughts.

“I was able to be in a group with our own principal, (T. Elijah Hawkes) so it was nice to be able to talk to him and know that I was being heard, and I feel like he did get something out of it,” Nolan said. “I’m not saying he hasn’t not listened to me in the past, he just gave me his full attention this time.”

Randolph Union senior Emily Baker was one of the first four students in the racial justice class beginning in the fall of 2018. Started by English teacher Emily Therrien and special educator Dana Decker, the class began as a response to an increase in racist behaviors and actions at the school. Baker joined the class because she was comfortable with the co-teachers to push herself as a person. Therrien was her English teacher freshman through junior year, while Decker was and still is her special education teacher.

“I really liked the connection I had with them, so it felt like a safe opportunity for me to educate myself and step out of my comfort zone,” Baker said. “My family does not hold the same ideals as I do ... – not that that’s bad. I think each person should have their own beliefs. In terms of social justice work and battling with whiteness and advocating for other races and genders, it’s difficult at home. I felt like this was an opportunity during my school day to better myself as a student and a person.”

Supported in curriculum done by Therrien, with Decker teaching solo, the class is important because it allows students to have the space to discuss, to mess up, to not always have the right answer, and most importantly to tangibly work toward dismantling systems of racism and oppression.

“Everyone in this class would take the class even if we didn’t get a credit out of it,” Baker said. “We enjoy the work we’re doing and we’re really passionate about what we’re doing. Same with Dana (Decker). She’s extremely passionate about what she’s doing, case and point why she’s taking on this class by herself. She’s passionate about this work and wants to get it done. The class is vital to school, especially in Vermont. We need more education around anti-racism. We are still trying to put it in the curriculum and are battling with our superintendent and school on how to get race education in our curriculum at school.”

For Anderson, he hopes that the push to increase anti-racism education goes beyond the surface level of “making the school look good” and continues to challenge blind spots within the community, like removing the controversial Galloping Ghost mascot that has been called out for resembling a Ku Klux Klansman.

“I’m hoping next year and in the future, we don’t give up on the mascot fight,” Anderson said. “That’s a pretty big issue that the racial justice (project-based learning) has been tackling for the past two years. It’s a tough conversation in this town because a lot of people don’t agree with us. I think the mascot shows how ignorant we are, and the fact that so many people resisted when we wanted to change it, shows really how embedded racism is in Vermont and this community especially.”

To learn more about Randolph Union’s racial justice project-based learning class visit

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