Annapolis High still fighting racial barriers School's curriculum slow in changing

January 27, 1991|By Lynda Robinson

An article about Annapolis High School that appeared i Sunday's editions of The Sun incorrectly stated that only whites were permitted to attend the school until a desegregation plan went into effect in 1966. In fact, blacks were allowed to go to Annapolis High in the early '60s, though the vast majority chose to attend Bates High School instead.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Kristal Thompson wipes away the tears before they finish forming at the corners of her eyes.

Officially, Kristal and her partner, Niccole Dorsey, have just a won a debate on multi-cultural education in their first-period speech class at Annapolis High School. But the 16-year-old black juniors aren't celebrating.

They believe that their arguments in favor of broadening the European-based curriculum to include the contributions of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities have fallen on deaf ears. The reaction of their classmates in the overwhelmingly white, college-track class ranged from polite disinterest to outright hostility.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"They don't want to hear it," fumes Kristal, whose mother is a principal at Bodkin Elementary School in Pasadena.

"I learn about European history all the time. I get frustrated because they don't want to learn anything about my culture. I think it's disrespect."

Her hurt and anger demonstrate the difficulty of breaking through racial barriers -- even in the classrooms of one of the most racially mixed, socially diverse public high schools in Maryland.

Annapolis High School's 1,595 students are a study in the dynamics of integration. While the majority of students are white, more than a third are black, another 2 percent are Asian, and more Hispanics enroll every year.

They live within a few miles of each other, but they arrive at the modern, two-story brick building on Riva Road from vastly different backgrounds and neighborhoods.

Rich teen-agers from waterfront houses open lockers next tpoor teen-agers from public housing projects.

The sons of police officers, meat cutters and truck drivers eat lunch with the daughters of doctors, lawyers and naval officers.

The student parking lot is dotted with Volvos, Mercedes-BenzesToyotas and other expensive imported cars.

But a significant number of students are poor enough to qualify for free lunches, though the school isn't sure how many because most kids are too embarrassed to ask for the meals.

The school offers 12 advanced-placement courses that allow students to earn college credits before graduating, and, at the same time, works with 115 ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders to keep them from dropping out in a program called Maryland's Tomorrow.

Annapolis High pulls together the splintered, often isolated communities that make up the state's capital. The school may be the only place in the city where the paths of the privileged, middle class and impoverished of all races cross on a daily basis.

"It's very unique," says Dr. George Samaras, president of the school's Athletic Boosters Club. He and his wife, Cathy, both graduated from Annapolis High in 1961 and now send their three children there.

The eldest, Dean, is a senior who plays on the football team alongside teen-agers from much poorer families. His world has been broadened by the experience, his father believes.

"The camaraderie is so impressive," Dr. Samaras says. "To watch these kids interact, it gives you a warm feeling."

The spectrum of people makes Annapolis "a real world school," says former principal Kenneth Nichols, who now works in the Anne Arundel school system's central office. Its graduates know how to cope with the array of people they encounter at college or in the workplace, he says.

"It's a real strength," he says. "I don't think a lot of them realize what a strength it is until they leave."

But the diversity can be as painful as it is enriching, particularly for the school's poorest students, says assistant principal Joyce Smith. At a time in their lives when fitting in means everything, they find a yawning gap between their world and that of their affluent classmates.

"For a large number of kids, it hurts," Mrs. Smith says.

Annapolis High, of course, has not always been so integrated. Until 1966, only white students were permitted to attend the school, which was housed in what is now the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Chase Street. Black students went to Wiley H. Bates High School a few blocks away on Smithville Street.

Bates was closed 25 years ago when Anne Arundel County decided to integrate its schools. It was a hard transition, particularly for the black students who entered Annapolis High's all-white world.

There were no black administrators, no black cheerleaders, no black representatives on the student government executive council, recalls Annapolis City Councilman Carl O. Snowden, who helped lead a boycott of classes when he was a student in 1970.

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