Bangor’s schools will partner with the University of Maine to evaluate how they could become more accepting of diversity, as one of a number of steps to try to tackle racism.
The partnership is among a number of steps the Bangor School Department is taking in response to recommendations made last month by a 40-member advisory committee that formed after reports about racism at Bangor High became public in 2020.
That’s when several Black students at Bangor High School told the Bangor Daily News that white students had called them the N-word and defended slavery and white supremacy in class discussions. An outside investigation completed later that year confirmed those students’ reports.
“We recognize the need to create a safe school community where all students feel like they belong,” Bangor School Committee chair Marwa Hassanien said. “We also recognize the need to foster a culture of respect, trust and understanding that centers our students’ lived experiences and helps them bring their authentic selves to school on a daily basis. We believe that this will help the growth of all our students.”
During a retreat last month, the Bangor School Committee decided to adopt six of the recommendations submitted by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
Bangor Superintendent James Tager said the UMaine equity audit will involve interviewing and surveying students and staff in the fall to evaluate the school department’s strengths and find where schools can improve to become more inclusive. The school department and UMaine are still working out the finer details of the partnership.
The school committee also decided to have hiring committees undergo implicit bias training before interviewing candidates, Hassanien said. The training will help eliminate unintentionally discriminatory thoughts and behaviors among those responsible for hiring staff to ensure the district welcomes people of diverse backgrounds.
The department will also review how it is recruiting for positions, so its hires are more reflective of the nation’s diversity, with the hope of exposing students to school leaders and teachers from a variety of backgrounds.
The school committee decided to ask Bangor school principals to review and potentially adjust their curriculums, so students are exposed to course materials and texts that feature diverse perspectives, cultures and identities — such as books by authors from diverse backgrounds.
Tager said the district will also continue an existing mentorship program that started this school year through which more than 600 of Bangor’s 3,400 students are mentored by an adult or another student.
The department’s mentor program and its push for diversity go hand in hand, Tager said, because providing students with a mentor gives them someone they can talk to who sees their value and will look out for their wellbeing.
The school department also plans to distribute an 82-page student handbook to every student that one of the diversity group’s subcommittees created. The handbook is designed to help new students, especially those from immigrant families, with their transition to Bangor schools.
It holds information about how to open a locker, find classes and access additional resources like food and warm clothing if needed, said Bangor High School senior Isabel Kidwell, who served on the subcommittee that wrote the handbook.
The school committee also drafted a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging statement that declares Bangor schools “value diversity and offer equitable opportunities for learning.”
The statement promises to create schools where students with “diverse perspectives, identities, cultures, backgrounds, family structures, faith communities and ideologies” are respected, valued, successful and safe to “express their individualities.”
“I’ve been in education for 40 years and this work excites me,” Tager said. “I’m doing what I believe is best for students. There are 3,400 of them, and they all have a talent or a gift. We’re educators of all students, and I think that’s what this work represents.”