The Bangor School Department launched a new partnership with the University of Maine that aims to make Bangor schools more inclusive and welcoming for students and educators from all backgrounds.
The partnership, announced Monday, is the latest step the school department has announced in recent months to tackle racism and other forms of discrimination. It was one of several recommendations the department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee presented to the school board in May. The 40-member advisory committee 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.
Through the partnership, members of the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development will lead three courses for Bangor teachers that will center around implicit bias and how schools can be more inclusive for students from all backgrounds. The courses, the first of which began Monday, will be held throughout the academic year.
UMaine will also help the school department conduct an equity audit that will gather data across student demographics regarding achievement, discipline, participation in advanced courses and involvement in extracurricular activities. The data will then be examined for disparities and opportunities for improvement, according to Penny Bishop, dean of the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development.
The school department and university will also issue a survey, conduct interviews and organize focus groups of educators, students and community members in which they can share their experiences with inclusion and belonging within the school department and ways they’d like the department to improve.
“This work is intended to promote the equity and inclusion of all voices and foster a safe, respectful and welcoming environment in which students believe and truly feel they’re accepted, valued, seen, heard, empowered and equipped to pursue successful futures,” school committee chair Marwa Hassanien said.
Dana Carver-Bialer, the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator and advisory committee chair, said she hopes students begin to see change in big and small ways throughout the school year.
The ultimate goal, Carver-Bialer said, is to shift the culture within schools and the larger community from tolerating what makes people different to celebrating those differences in race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability.
In addition to the partnership with UMaine, the advisory committee also recommended the predominantly white school department hire and retain staff who represent the diversity of the U.S. so students are exposed to leaders from a variety of backgrounds.
Examining and changing curriculum so students are exposed to course materials and texts that feature diverse perspectives, cultures and identities was also among the recommendations.