A documentary series that examined racial inequity in a west suburban Chicago high school will now be the basis for a course offered at Stanford University.
The 10-part series America to Me followed 12 students at Oak Park and River Forest High School during the 2015-16 academic year. The school is known as one of the metro area’s most successful, diverse and progressive schools. But the series exposed deep race-based separation within the integrated school.
According to the OPRF administration, the student body identifies as 56 percent white, 20 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, 9 percent biracial and 3 percent Asian. About 20 percent of the teaching staff are people of color.
Teacher Jessica Stovall has created a new course at Stanford University based on the series called “America Never was America to me: Race and Equity in US Public Schools.”
“People are having really intense and important conversations about race and equity,” Stovall said of the series. “So I thought, why not bring it to an institution like Stanford University that’s at the forefront of some of these conversations about race and schools?”
Stovall is one of a few black teachers at OPRF and is currently on leave to pursue a doctorate degree at Stanford. Stovall’s high school English class was prominent in the television series because her students, Ke’shawn Kumsa and Diane Barrios-Smith, were two of the 12 students the show followed.
During the Stanford course, students will screen an episode at each class, followed by a presentation from various professors. Stovall’s invited instructors from disciplines like psychology, sociology and law to speak.
“Not only are you watching and engaging with the film, you’re getting an amazing Stanford professor talking about something you may not have considered or giving more background knowledge,” she said.
Stovall hopes students will come away from the course with the ability to identify inequities.
“I really hope that ultimately students … walk away feeling they have the tools to do those things by looking at the issues of inequity at several different angles,” she said.
In a written statement, OPRF Superintendent JoyLynn Pruitt-Adams congratulated Stovall.
“We’re pleased that the conversation about racial equity in education that was sparked by ‘America to Me’ continues to grow and develop across the country,” Pruitt-Adams said.
Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her @soosieon and @WBEZeducation.