From October 7–9, eight students from the PHS chapter of the nationwide Minority Student Achievement Network will be attending a national conference in Madison, Wisconsin. MSAN is a national coalition between schools to work toward eliminating intellectual and academic racial achievement gaps. Most MSAN schools are located in suburbs or small cities, such as Princeton.
The conference in Wisconsin is an annual event, and some students go on the trip more than once to hear new speakers and participate in different workshops. “They have really great speakers [including minority activists Dr. Decoteau Irby, Roberto Rivera, and Reverend Alex Gee] who come in to talk to the students about … being leaders,” said PHS Social Worker Lenora Keel, the staff advisor for MSAN. “This year’s theme … is exploring deeper roots, [exposing] roots that cause racial inequities, [embracing the] roots of who you are, and [being empowered] to take action.”
Isaiah Anagbo ’17 went on the trip last year. “The best part of the trip is that you just get to be around a lot of people who are [like-minded],” he said. “You fit in … It’s a good environment to be a part of.”
Briana Silva ’18, who has not attended the trip in the past, anticipates more than just learning about the achievement gap—in particular, she looks forward to visiting some of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s schools of study. “I’m looking forward to going [on] the college tours that they have planned for us and just meeting other scholars … and talking about important issues that are happening,” she said.
During the conference, students are busy from seven in the morning until ten in the evening each day, engaging in structured activities geared toward empowering minority students. There are over 400 students in attendance each year, so the students have many people to interact with.
Jasmine Charles ’16, who attended two years ago, felt that the trip opened her eyes to how the achievement gap exists in different districts. “It was definitely a very breathtaking trip only because [you get to meet with] so many individuals that also recognize themselves as minorities with the goal to try to lessen the achievement gap that’s been plaguing school systems for decades, centuries even,” she said. “And that sort of uniformity and yet coexistence and simply the discussions that were facilitated there really gave me a greater insight as to the struggles that other schools may face.”
This wide exposure also changed the way she perceived PHS and her role in trying to make a difference. “[The discussions] really allowed me to come back to the high school and start questioning more activities, how I was related to those kinds of things, and how I could bring about change and try to encourage other people to do so as well,” she said.
The Princeton Public School District has been committed to the MSAN program for approximately fifteen years. “The superintendent, assistant superintendent, [and others] take part by traveling nationally to visit other schools who are part of this organization; they all come together to address issues of minority achievement throughout the country,” Keel said.
Throughout MSAN’s history in the district, its participants have gone on to be successful later in life, many of whom Keel has managed to keep in touch with.“I’m proud to say that many of the students I’ve worked with now are either college graduates doing post-grad work … [or] doing wonderful things,” Keel said.
After the conference, the students work with each other and staff members to construct an action plan for the rest of the year.
This year, the club is planning to hold an evening cultural event in the winter and continue with its stands at Fall Fest and Spring Fling. It will expand these plans after the conference, and make a presentation to the Board of Education about their trip and the initiatives they have in mind for the rest of the year.
Members of MSAN will also meet with other teachers to discuss plans within the school. Keel said, “These students are out among their peers, so they get to hear what some of the concerns are about the classrooms, how they’re being treated, what their concerns are about their education, or just how to make the school a place that feels like a comfortable learning environment for all students.”
“Last year we were going to organize an African-American festival, but we didn’t have time … This year we’re going to do … more; we’re gonna have more festivals and we’re gonna do more bake sales and [explore] ways for the community to know more about us,” Briani Vasquez ’18 said.
Charles agrees that outreach to the PHS community is important. “We always aim to make the name MSAN sort of ring true throughout the hallways. It’s kind of one of those unknown clubs … I think a lot more involvement and exposure is what we’re looking for.”
Currently, at MSAN’s weekly Thursday meetings, students discuss issues they face in school that involve their status as part of a minority group. “Basically, we [have] discussions about … racial tensions, or we talk about … race and being a minority and ways we can help other minorities feel … welcomed,” Vasquez said.
MSAN serves as a safe environment for students to work together to change the realities of racial achievement gaps and empower one another to take a stand. Anagbo said, “MSAN is so special for me [because] I’m in a group of people who all … want to be better and strive for success and then it just makes me want to do better.”