By Lily Wall
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Montgomery Blair High School has long been known as one of the largest and most diverse schools in Maryland, hosting magnet programs like the Communications Art Program (CAP)– but how diverse is CAP compared to Blair as a whole?
Blair has a large number of Hispanic students enrolled (33.9 percent of its total student body), with Black people and White people tied for second in terms of demographic majorities.
As of October 2015, there were a total of 285 students in CAP, 67.4 percent of whom were White and less than 5 percent Hispanic (This is similar for the STEM magnet program at the school, as well).
“[CAP’s] not very diverse but I think everybody’s still very accepting,” said one sophomore, explaining that CAP teachers and students try very hard to cultivate a community of acceptance.
But as the majority of CAP students are White, students of color can be left feeling isolated within the program, and sometimes even singled out.
“There’s not many colored people in CAP, so I feel left out sometimes because there’s like two black people in my class,” said another sophomore in the program. “Sometimes I don’t feel like I belong in CAP.”
There have been incidents in the past where CAP students have felt singled out or attacked for their race, on some occasions by teachers.
This prompted the creation of Black CAP, an organization dedicated to bringing CAP students of color together and ensuring their voices are heard.
Kenneth Smith, one of the coordinators of Black CAP, said that Black CAP has many goals, one of which is “to create a safe space for students of color to engage in conversations to help navigate the challenges and the struggles that they face of being the only one, or one of a few, [students of color] in a program that was inhabited by people of a dominant [White] culture.”
Smith says another main goal is “to reach out into the community, particularly communities of color, that don’t necessarily have access to the information about these choice programs like CAP.”
Much of the process of reaching out is “enlightening parents” to the fact that programs like CAP exist, as well as encouraging them “to prepare their children at a much younger age to get them started along that pathway to these programs.”
Black CAP is open to all people of color, not only Black students.
These members advertise their program by giving presentations to classes and on the school televised news show, as well as by visiting middle and elementary schools with the CAP Coordinator, Sarah Fillman.
Fillman says the first step to diversifying CAP is to “break down and understand the history of oppression” as well as to examine one’s “definition of giftedness, which has often been tied to Whiteness.”
Many steps have been to begin diversifying CAP, such as building relationships with all eight feeder middle schools, having Spanish (and soon Amharic) language versions of all CAP information and application sheets, and even creating a week-long summer camp that introduces 7th graders to the program ahead of 8th grade enrollment deadlines.
Fillman also stressed the importance of simply informing parents and students that CAP, and programs like it, exist. She says that she is “hoping [to] see a change in the number of applicants who are students of color” as a result of some of these changes she helped create.
A student’s race has never been visible on CAP application forms, but starting with the 2019 applications, student’s names and middle schools will also be omitted in an effort to further cut down on potentially biased acceptance.
Magnet programs were first created in the 1960’s as an attempt to desegregate schools by drawing White children to minority schools.
According to an academic article on the subject of Critical Race Theory in education, “ … honors … and/or gifted programs and advanced placement courses are but the myriad ways that schools have essentially been resegregated.”
Although CAP was established in 1988, many argue that the effects of this mentality can still be seen and felt in the overall demographics of CAP and other magnet programs at Blair- something people inside and outside of the organization are working to change going forward.