Student representatives visited middle schools to spark eighth graders' interest
Communication Arts Program (CAP) juniors visited Sligo, Silver Spring International (SSI), Eastern and Takoma Park middle schools in the past two weeks to encourage more minorities to apply to the program this December.
Juniors Avi Edelman, Saron Yitbarek, Adam Yalowitz and Terence McPherson initiated the visits in an effort to alter the approximately 80 percent white CAP population to better reflect Blair's racial make-up. The juniors approached CAP coordinator Dolores D'Angelo during the first week of school and suggested that a small group of students visit middle schools to acquaint more students, especially minorities, with the program.
Edelman said that since ninth grade he and his friends had frequently discussed the lack of diversity in CAP and realized that they could help improve the program. "We're trying to add more diversity to CAP by making sure it is presented to a more diverse audience of people," said Edelman.
CAP was initially created in 1988 to increase racial diversity at the school as a whole, according to D'Angelo. The program has had difficulty shifting away from that approach and has a new mission to be more representative of the community, said D'Angelo. Of the 278 students in the CAP this year, 57 of them identified themselves as non-white, according to student statistics collected by D'Angelo.
Last year's conflict between the African American Parents of Magnet School Applicants (AAPMSA) and two middle school magnet programs brought attention to the disparity in honors programs such as the CAP and Magnets in Montgomery County. Edelman said that he and his friends were partially influenced by the AAPMSA's actions. "Their outspokenness prompted a lot of discussion," he said.
The CAP program has colorblind admissions, which means race is not a factor in determining acceptance of applicants, according to D'Angelo. A lack of diversity among applicants may be one of the reasons why the program itself is not diverse, said D'Angelo. "We're trying to cast our net out and grab more people to make more people aware," she said. According to D'Angelo, more minorities will be accepted into CAP if more are aware of the program and apply.
At the Nov. 2 meeting at SSI, a diverse group of approximately forty eighth graders attended to listen to D'Angelo and three juniors discuss CAP classes and projects. About half of the students raised their hands when D'Angelo asked if any of them had previously known of CAP. At the Oct. 19 meeting at Sligo, where an estimated fifty percent of the attendants were minorities, Edelman reported, "we definitely sparked interest in several people."
CAP junior Brenda Akinnagbe, who is half-Nigerian and half-Salvadoran, said she heard about the CAP from her older sister, who had attended Blair, and from her Eastern magnet friends. Akinnagbe observed that at Eastern, people assumed that the magnet kids would apply, whereas other students did not know much about the program.
Edelman, who also attended Eastern, noticed that the honors students in the Eastern and Takoma Park magnets received more CAP marketing than average students. He mentioned that the middle school magnets have their own diversity inadequacies.
Some students do not know about CAP until their freshman year at Blair. D'Angelo allows students to join second semester of ninth grade and the first semester of tenth. CAP senior Sebastian Johnson, who is black, learned about the CAP program from his freshman English teacher, who encouraged him to apply. He joined the program in tenth grade.
Ethiopian senior Soulyana Lakew heard about the program from a junior friend when she was a sophomore at Blair. Her friend raved about how his writing skills had improved and how CAP journalism prepared many students for a prestigious position on the school newspaper, Silver Chips. Lakew is slightly disappointed that she did not know about CAP until it was too late to apply. Being in the program "would have been cool," she said.
The juniors who started the middle school visits recognized that having students with a variety of backgrounds in the classroom contributes to the learning experience. "If we read, say, 'Fences,' and we don't have a diverse class, it really takes away from the discussions," said Edelman.
Akinnagbe and Johnson share Edelman's vision for a mixture of students in CAP classes. "I would like to see more minorities in the program," said Johnson.
Akinnagbe reasoned that a variety of races in the CAP would help expose students to a variety of attitudes. "It's generally good to have different views [in the classroom]," she said. Akinnagbe also mentioned offhandedly that she might have felt more comfortable initially in a more diverse program, but now she "takes it as it is."
Anna Coughlan. Anna is a CAP junior who can't believe she's an upperclassman already. She likes to run Blair cross-country and track, do yoga, play soccer, and chill with fun-loving people. Anna is a big movie fan and loves the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star … More »