The constant beat of a drum pounds amidst the rich melodies of multiple instruments. As their bodies spin, their vibrant blue and purple Indian tunics shimmer, and beams of light reflect off small mirrors embroidered on the fabric. For many members of the Indian Club, dancing allows them to connect with their Indian heritages. But for others like junior Rachel Martin, who is white and Hispanic, it is a chance to be transported into a whole new world.
Martin's integration into a culture different than her own is not an uncommon occurrence among Blazers. With its close-to-equal ratio of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians relative to other Washington Metropolitan schools, Blair was named the most diverse school in the area in the October 2004 issue of the Washingtonian magazine. While Blair's racial diversity is frequently hailed, the school also is home to students from all sides of the cultural and socio-economic spectrum. Blair is an international microcosm, representing the world's overall diversity on almost every level.
Learning from others
Blair's after-school activities highlight the school's increasing ethnic diversity. The school houses at least a dozen cultural clubs, allowing Blazers to join activities that celebrate their heritages even if they are thousands of miles away from their homeland. Other students can learn about cultures different from their own.
Some Blazers join ethnic clubs primarily for social reasons only to find they are inspired by the new culture. Martin was introduced to the Indian Club through two friends. "We're planning dance performances, and we're trying to raise awareness of Indian culture," she says. Martin says that Blair's diversity has allowed her to learn about different ethnicities and meet new people.
Although senior Camila Silva initially began to attend Cambodian Club meetings to be with her friends, her curiosity grew so quickly that she became more involved than many of the other members. This year, she is the club's president. Silva, Spanish in heritage, explains that her background hasn't interfered with her participation. "I like learning about Cambodian culture," says Silva. She is currently learning how to dance, speak the language, and play different Cambodian instruments.
From then to now
Just as Silva is learning the Cambodian language, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students must learn English when they attend Blair. The presence of the ESOL program brings students of all cultures to Blair. The school's student population mirrors the world's situation as more immigrants come to Blair during times of international crises, says ESOL Resource Teacher Joseph Bellino. Bellino, who joined Blair's staff in 1974, says at the time there were only 35 ESOL students and Blair was mostly white and African American. During the 1960s, a large influx of Cuban students came to Blair. In the 1970s, Blair gained many Iranian and Korean students due to political and economic problems in their homelands and more Vietnamese students after the fall of Vietnam.
Today, Blair's population represents over 50 languages and 76 different countries, based on information collected by the International Student Admitting Office in 2003. With Blazers from Albania to Zaire, speaking languages from Amharic to Wolof, Blair's cultural amalgamation exposes students to all different walks of life.
"We reflect the real world"
In addition to Blair's explosion of cultures, Blair has students from all different financial situations. Blair is extremely diverse socio-economically, giving students a more accurate perception of the human race. "We reflect the real world internationally much better than a school that is predominately white, Christian and middle class," says Diversity Workshop sponsor Joann Malone. "If we're ever going to get a realistic picture, it is necessary to understand poverty, religion, et cetera, other than our own."
About 22 percent of Blazers are members of low-income families, according to the Washingtonian—a number much greater than at any other Montgomery County school. The 2000 Census indicates that Silver Spring has one of the lowest median family incomes in the county. Because Blair houses students from all over the county, there exists a wide spectrum of students at the socio-economic level.
Financial security has provided opportunities for some Blazers that others may not have. Senior Doug Adams, a Potomac resident, is fortunate to have these benefits, coming from as he says an "upper-middle class" background. Because his family is financially secure, Adams currently has an internship with the National Institute of Standards and Technology instead of a job. "If I had to work, I couldn't have an internship," he says.
While some Blazers do not worry about finances, money is an issue for others. Students can get a head start in the workforce by taking part in Blair's Cooperative Work Experience (CWE) or the CWE with On-the-Job Training classes in which students can be released early for work. This program has allowed senior Alycia Stover to leave Blair after 5A class to work and save money for the future. She works both for Target and for the City of Takoma Park as a program aid working on projects like block parties. "I'm using the money to help save up for college," says Stover.
Diversity Workshop leader senior Lisa Howe describes the benefits of attending a school that is so varied in every aspect. "We have so many different perspectives, different ways of life," she says. "We can learn so much and educate each other. For some people, Blair's diversity can change their life around."
Monica Huang. Monica Huang is finally a HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR in the CAP program and is ready to move on to bigger and better things in life. Counting down the days until graduation and summer, Monica can be found hanging out with friends, watching TV, and dancing. … More »