Naperville Neighbors United Holds Youth Town Hall on Racism

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On Wednesday Naperville Neighbors United hosted a virtual town hall titled “Racism: A Conversation With Our Youth.”

Students in districts 203 and 204 say they’ve seen racism in their schools — and they want change.

City and school district leaders from both 203 and 204 listened as kids shared their experiences from the classroom.

Organizers asked for volunteers to speak. More than a dozen junior high and high school students shared their thoughts.

Need for Change

A common thread among speakers was the desire for change within their schools.

Many of those who spoke are minorities and spoke of mistreatment.

“I’ve gotten used to the feeling of always sticking out and being watched,” said one freshman at Naperville North.

Several Black students said teachers acted surprised when they tested for advanced courses. They feel students of color are treated differently from white students and are often singled out.

“A lot of them (teachers) are just waiting to call one of them (Black students) out and embarrass them in front of the class,” said one Jefferson Junior High School student.

Specific Calls for Change

Students brought up several specific examples of changes they want to see in school. Many feel the teaching staff within the two school districts should be more diverse. Several students also requested changes to school curriculum, especially in language arts and history courses.

One graduate of 204 said he was offended by what his school taught about Sikhism, his religion. “The racism is starting at such a young age,” he said.

Leaders Respond

While school district leaders were part of the panel listening to students, they did not respond to each speaker. However, leaders were given a chance to speak generally to address concerns.

“We know that you are experiencing racism in our schools and in our community and that is unacceptable,” said Kristen Fitzgerald, School Board President for District 203.

“We want to hear the voices and we want to do better,” said Doug Eccarius, Deputy Superintendent for District 204.

Polling Students

Around 200 people signed up to listen during the town hall. All students were asked to take a poll.

When asked “Does the community of Naperville make you feel welcome and comfortable?” 56% of students responded “occasionally.”

When asked, “What do you most want to add (to) your educational experience?” 41% of students said “more expansive and inclusive history,” 36% said “diverse teaching,” and 23% said “culturally relevant reading choices.”

Moving Forward

Naperville Neighbors United, city leaders, and representatives from both school districts were taking notes throughout the event. They promised to stay in touch with students.

District 203 employees say the district is currently doing a review of its curriculum, and is looking closely at language arts and social studies. A District 204 employee pushed students to continue making their voices heard in the future.

Michelle Corless reporting for Naperville News 17.

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Photo courtesy: @NapervilleNeighborsUnited