Survey finds widespread minority male discontent

Baraka Aboul-Magd

The School Climate Committee held a discussion with focus groups of Black and Latino male Wilson students on February 28, after results from the DCPS Panorama Survey of all Wilson students found that only 66 percent of Black male students showed satisfaction toward Wilson and only 51 percent expressed a sense of belonging at Wilson. The results were the lowest of any demographic surveyed.

The climate committee created the focus groups in an effort to better understand why results for Black males were so poor, and to inform an action plan for administrative action to address the issue.

“We were focused on the sense of belonging of African-American males, Latino males, [and] students of color in the building,” said 12th Grade Assistant Principal Gregory Bargeman.  “We really need to look at this and see if this is something that is holistically impacting the whole school, and that is what set up the idea of actually having the focus group.”

Data on white and Asian student satisfaction is unavailable because DCPS only highlighted the low results from Black male students, and Wilson lost access to other results of the survey in December.

Twelfth Grade Assistant Principal Gregory Bargeman and World Languages teacher Simona Spicciani-Gerhardt spearheaded the focus group project, both in producing questions and driving the subsequent discussion they had with staff. Physical Education teacher Desmond Dunham and Science teacher Patrick Christian were also involved in the focus group as part of their work for the organization Full-Count, a mentoring program to help students find opportunities and careers outside of Wilson.

Each group surveyed consisted of no more than eight students—Spicciani-Gerhardt didn’t want the groups to be large because she wanted to ensure that the groups remained a “safe and intimate environment.” All grade levels except 12th were represented, as well as students from a variety of classes. Spicciani-Gerhardt sought students from the same demographics but different social groups, so the information wasn’t skewed.

Christian and Bargeman weren’t surprised by the issues students identified, but what did surprise them was the severity of those problems.

The questions ranged from those directly relevant to the Panorama Survey, such as inquiring into the makeup of their friend groups and whether they believe teachers are respectful, to more detailed questions that targeted administrative objectives, such as why students choose to enroll or not to enroll in AP courses.

“A lot of the men felt that they didn’t need to challenge themselves and that the school wasn’t doing enough to help resolve those feelings,” said Junior Ricardo Sheler, who was part of the focus group.

Focus group participants also expressed problems with certain Wilson and DCPS policies that they felt targeted by. “I took away that a lot of people aren’t happy with the attendance policy because they feel they are being discriminated against,” said Sheler.

A consistent issue that all focus group members expressed was that they lacked a sense of belonging at Wilson, not necessarily because of the school itself but because of social dynamics that exist outside of school. The members of the focus group also reported feeling especially isolated in AP courses, which are mostly comprised of white students.

There was some disagreement on this issue, however: a vocal minority of focus group participants felt that while AP classes aren’t diverse, that didn’t discourage them from taking APs. “[Many of us] felt that we belonged [in AP courses] because we signed up for those classes and we believe we could handle the work,” said Junior Michael Lacore.

The climate committee is still in the process of developing an action plan to address concerns brought by the focus group. “We brainstormed some ideas about what can we do now that’s actually feasible, because the mistake is always to think very big and then get lost,” said Spicciani-Gerhardt.