Students take the mic on Hillsborough High School race and ethnicity podcast
By Kathryn Coulibaly
this sings: “That all men are created equal”, other voices are heard, saying: “Our destinies are intertwined” and “Racial issues are controversial, but that is precisely why we need to talk about them . So begins the introductory episode of Prejudice & Pride, a podcast created and produced by students at Hillsborough High School eager to discuss race and ethnicity in their own space, in their own way.
As junior Ray Fofana said in the intro episode, “For much of my life, conversations about race and ethnicity have been treated as extra talking points, not the crucial and urgent as they are Growing up in an interracial, bi-religious family has forced me to face frequent adversity regarding my identity.
Fofana continued, “Sometimes the environment within our school made me feel like my own existence was political or just completely invalidated. Often in the classroom, conversations about race, diversity and even acceptance are avoided for fear of controversy. Ignoring these topics has made it harder for me, and other students from marginalized groups, to feel supported in the classroom. This podcast gave me a space to share my experience, but without the obligation to make it more digestible.
Sophomore Izzy Volpe pointed out that she spent more than a decade as a student in public education and participated in countless assemblies and lessons about bullying and the importance of practicing love, kindness, compassion and empathy. Yet, she asked, “How come…the topics of racism – both systemic and personal – were never addressed? How genuine is the message of kindness, compassion, and empathy when it fails to even acknowledge one of the most pervasive injustices in our society and our school system? It’s important that we start to expand that message to include anti-racism, and that’s why I’m so excited to be a part of this podcast.
Guided by Hillsborough High School social studies teacher Robert Fenster, students lead the conversation.
“Hillsborough High School is a suburban upper middle class community and the school population is quite diverse,” Fenster said. “Social studies and English teachers struggle to ensure the curriculum is representative, and students sometimes feel like we’re falling behind. I wanted to give students an opportunity to explore these questions and a way to tell their stories and explore the complexity of a variety of topics that are simply not available to us during the school day.
The students have been working for months to identify topics, discuss how they want to break down the podcast, and figure out who will do what.
Fenster considers himself the showrunner of the podcast. He conceived the idea and approached students he thought would be interested. They immediately recruited others.
“It’s really student-focused,” Fenster said. “We met via Google Meet at night and we regularly email ideas. The students break down the topics and decide who will take on which topics. They do the research, identify the people to interview, conduct the interview and will also end up editing the episode.
Fenster found support from the Hillsborough High School administration and sought additional financial resources to implement the program. In 2020, he successfully applied for an NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Grant for Excellence in Education for $3,833 to purchase a Macintosh computer and recording equipment, including microphones, boom microphone stands, and recorders portable digital. The grant also pays for the costs of the platform that hosts the blog. The grant is for the 2021-22 school year.
In January 2022, the students began publishing their podcast with the goal of a podcast every two weeks. Topics covered covered a wide range of content. In “The Science and the Myth of Race,” sophomore Raina James interviewed Dr. Daniel Fairbanks of Utah Valley University. In “Am I Racist?” Senior Melanie Quesada and junior Alec Ruiter discussed implicit biases and the impossibility of being “colorblind”. In “Here First, Here Now,” junior Bella Moyacarneiro explores the Indigenous experience within the Hillsborough community.
“P&P Unfiltered Chat” is part of a planned series of periodic unscripted episodes that allow band members to talk about a variety of topics unannounced. “Female Artists of Color” focuses on female student artists, their areas of interest, and the common challenges of being taken seriously and nurtured as creators due to their intersectionality.
“We’re also going to have a feature called ‘Ask Us Anything’, and we hope students will contact us with questions they might not feel comfortable asking elsewhere,” Fenster said. “We want to educate people. A topic that keeps coming up in anti-racism work is that it is not the responsibility of ethnic or racial minorities to educate white people about these things, but the students of this club want to have these conversations; they want to be a source for people. And, as they say, it’s not like they have all the answers; they want to learn more and share their experiences and hopefully facilitate better understanding and cooperation.
Senior Azinwi Numfor, who describes herself as quite talkative, said: “I think there is an underappreciated power that comes from civil discourse and engaging in meaningful conversations about current issues. Growing up black in a predominantly white area confronted me with many instances of ignorance. I think when it comes to race there is too much silence about the multiple issues to be addressed… I hope through this podcast we can inspire discussions on race issues and I hope people away from issues that make them uncomfortable.
Fofana sees the immense value of having this space to deal with difficult issues.
“I now have the ability to invite conversation without fear of being penalized or labeled as an instigator,” Fofana said. “While I can’t forget the microaggressions or overt racism I encounter ‘on a daily basis’, being surrounded by a network of students willing and eager to explore these topics has given me a new sense of I believe this podcast will spark much-needed and hopefully ongoing discussions about race and ethnicity within our school community.
Raina James discussed the importance of talking to high school students about racism, as they are the future parents and guardians of the next generation.
“If your parents or guardians are using discriminatory language, chances are you’re internalizing their really damaging ideas,” James said. “I really want to break that generational pattern…so they can raise their kids in a more inclusive society.”
The New Jersey Council for the Social Studies recently recognized James for his work on the episode “The Science and the Myth of Race.”
As Fofana said in the podcast intro, “While these topics can sometimes be contentious and lead to emotional responses, we won’t shy away from conversation. We believe open and candid conversation is the best way to build tolerance, understanding and acceptance, and we invite you to join us, roll up your sleeves and get the job done.
You can listen to the podcast on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are available. Learn more about the podcast at hhspod.com/prejudiceandpride and follow the Prejudice & Pride podcast on Instagram at hhsprejudiceandpride.
Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of NJEA journal and provides content and support for njea.org. She can be reached at [email protected]
Fenster named to the National Teacher Hall of Fame
In April, Bob Fenster was surprised at Hillsborough High School as one of only five teachers in the country to be named to the class of 2022 in the National Teacher Hall of Fame.
Fenster has been teaching for 29 years. He is a social studies teacher at Hillsborough High School.
In addition to the Prejudice & Pride podcast, Fenster currently advises Model Congress, Model United Nations, Mock Trial, Amnesty International and podcasting clubs, and hosts an annual alumni benefit concert.
This year, Fenster also received the Education Ambassador Award from the Pegasus Springs Education Collective and the Teaching Award from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance. In 2019, Fenster was named Secondary Teacher of the Year by the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies. He has also received the Law-Related Education Teacher of the Year Award from the American Lawyers Alliance, the Paul A. Gagnon Award from the National Council for History Education, the Claes Nobel Prize Top Ten Educator of the Year from the National Society of High School Scholars, the Jewish Guild for the Blind Teacher of the Year Award, and the Amherst College Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Award, among other honors.
Fenster was Reese Fellow at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Swensrud Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Barringer Fellow at Monticello, and Fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center. In all of these fellowships, he has curated resources and developed lesson plans to share with his peers.
After touring Sierra Leone with the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, he helped raise nearly $5,000 to pay for the photocopying of essential course materials and meals for students receiving extra support at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School in the city of Bo.
Four other New Jersey teachers have already been inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame during his 30 years, including Tracey Fallon, Richard Ruffalo, James Quinlan and Ronald Foreso, who was actually Fenster’s teacher in his senior year at Parsippany High School in 1987. .
The National Teacher Hall of Fame was founded in 1989 in Emporia, Kansas by Emporia State University, the ESU Alumni Association, the City of Emporia, Emporia Public Schools, and the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce. Emporia. He held his first induction of five teachers in 1992 and has since honored 150 educators. The mission of the National Teachers Hall of Fame is to recognize and honor outstanding career teachers, encourage excellence in teaching, and preserve the rich heritage of the teaching profession in the United States. In addition to the National Teachers Hall of Fame Museum, they also house a national memorial to deceased educators. Learn more about nthf.org.
Apply for an NJEA Hipp Grant
NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Grants help educators bring creative ideas to life. The only foundation of its kind in New Jersey, the Hipp Foundation supports initiatives to promote excellence in education.
More than $2.3 million in grants for innovative educational projects that represent a bold, new approach to public school employees have already been awarded. Apply for a Hipp grant and bring your innovative ideas to life. Grants range from $500 to $10,000.
The annual deadline is March 1. To find out more, visit njea.org/hipp.