Carpinteria High is asking the community to “be the change” in a week of cultural awareness and understanding. During the week of January 14-18, assemblies, speakers, and theater will combine with the goal of accepting cultural differences.
Three staff members from Carpinteria High were encouraged to instigate change after attending Just Communities’ Institute for Equity in Education (IEE). Just Communities, a local non-profit focusing on social justice, holds conferences and institutes for educators and youth throughout the year. IEE focuses on educators and helps them develop strategic plans to address discrimination, inequity, and achievement gaps in their schools. After attending the workshop, Carpinteria High staff brainstormed to put on this week of activities.
Carpinteria High principal Gerardo Cornejo said he was enthusiastic about the upcoming week of events. “It makes such a difference when you have a school that fosters a greater understanding of different cultures and allows students the freedom to experience the differences in our society in a positive way. So many of our youth develop negative attitudes toward different cultures, primarily due to lack of exposure, [and] we are excited to be implementing programs to create awareness and positive change.”
“Be The Change” week is a precursor to the national organization Challenge Day. This group provides one-day training for up to 100 students at a time, teaching students how to create an environment of safety, acceptance, and inclusion. With a large minority population and a broad socioeconomic range, Carpinteria High’s student body of 800 is bound to hold some tension. Counselor Andrea Young compared student relations, including gangs and racial disparity, as the same as in Santa Barbara, “only on a smaller scale.”
Young has visited classrooms to give a preview of upcoming events and reports that the student response has been “phenomenal.” Students have already begun talking about uncomfortable topics, such as race relations, at school. “We try to teach students that they are the voice of the community,” she says, a message that will be present all week. On Monday, there are “sold-out” assemblies to hear SBCC professor Manuel Unzueta, who worked with Latino youth to make a mural celebrating cultural diversity, now displayed on campus. He will be speaking about cultural awareness and the history of Chicano art. On Tuesday, theater students will reenact scenes from South Pacific, a musical dealing with racism and marriage. As well, a former student, now playing with the Philadelphia Eagles, will speak about overcoming obstacles to success. Finally, former gang affiliate David Fernandez will give an inspirational speech on Thursday about the difficulties he faced in his youth and how he managed to turn his life around.
The effort to create an inclusive environment also extends to the community this week. A different activity takes place each night in the cafeteria, each event running from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. “Be The Change” has an opening ceremony on Monday with a community art reception displaying artwork from Carpinteria High and Carpinteria Middle School students. On Tuesday, in addition to theater students reenacting South Pacific, workshops will be held by the Academy of Healing Arts and Just Communities. Workshop topics include Tolerance, Healthy Family Relationships, and Celebrating the Differences in Us. Wednesday is a cultural food night with BBQ and samplings from local restaurants, along with Fernandez as the inspirational speaker. The week wraps up on Thursday with the screening of Freedom Writers starring Hillary Swank, a teacher who uses writing to teach at-risk students tolerance and hope.