Lufkin H.S. segregating classes to help students

Published: Mar. 6, 2009 at 5:43 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2009 at 6:36 PM CST
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By Shannon Royster - bio|email

LUFKIN, TX  (KSLA) -  If you look at the students in one Lufkin High School classroom, all will see are the faces of young black girls. That's because this pilot course, which studies the work of African-American female poets, is only for people who look like them.

John Mitchell, an advanced preparatory teacher and department chair for language arts, says there's a good reason for the class dynamics. "It's horrible if a white child doesn't know Toni Morrison. It's a disaster if a black child doesn't."

This is not an issue of 'black and white.'  The school's population is one-third black, one-third white, and one-third Hispanic, and Mitchell says not everyone is learning at the same pace.

"For instance, right now, I only have two black girls in my 11th grade class, and that's not acceptable in a school that has one third of its population (made up of black students)," Mitchell said.

With the backing of the school superintendent, Lufkin ISD decided to put 16 high-potential, low-performing 9th and 10th grade black girls in a class to give them self worth.

"We need to learn about people of our type and our history," said Annastasha Ross, one of the students in the class. "We need to know what happened and how ... black women had something to do with history."

"It's something that they can understand, and all of the people in (the class) belong to their culture," Mitchell said. " So we're trying to give them ownership.

"We're not segregating the girls for evil purposes. We're segregating the girls to make it to where they can be successful in college. To me, it's unforgivable that our black students do not know that the Noble Prize for Literature was won by a black woman."

Last year, the school isolated 16 under-performing 9th and 10th grade Hispanic boys for a skills-based class to help get them into upper-level courses.  After the first year of the Hispanic-only class, all of them passed the TAKS test with honors.  Six of them got into the gifted and talented program and the rest went into the Pre AP program.  That was the goal.

Yet some people say the increased performance still doesn't make segregated classes right.

"I think it's wrong," said one Lufkin High student. "I wouldn't want to be left out because of my color or my gender."

Mother Allison Maxwell agrees. "We should be past this. I don't think it's a step backwards, but I think it's a narrow minded view."

Another issue for some is the all African-American girl's class is taught by a white teacher. Mitchell says he tried to find a black instructor, but the wait was too long.

However, the girls don't seem to mind, especially since her degree is in ethnic studies.

"I wouldn't want any other teacher but her because she's cool and she helps us understand it more," Ross said.

Another question raised is why no black boys or Hispanic girls are in these classes.  "We know that all of the studies that are coming back right now (show) the 9th and 10th grades students perform much better if they're separated by gender," Mitchell said.

Mitchell does have some parents behind him. "Offering something to the African-American female, something they can be proud of and learn more about, I think it's great," Parent Jacqueline Garcia said.

Ross thinks the class will make a long-term, positive impact on her life. "I think I would remember the fact that this class is helping me become a stronger black woman and it will help me to stay in harder classes in high school."

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