Newton South has entered its second year of launching the Legacy Scholars program dedicated to providing a support system for students of color and has witnessed general success.
Inspired by Brookline High School and Newton North’s Dover Legacy Scholars, South decided to pilot a similar program under the lead of co-advisers, Science Department Head Gerard Gagnon and METCO Counselor Katani Sumner.
Gagnon explains that the program focuses on recognizing and supporting the achievements of students of color who have done well during their first two years of their high school experience.
“It is a way for us to bring them together so they can be supported by the school and support each other as a community,” Gagnon said. “It is also a way for the school to start moving forward in addressing the persistent racial achievement gap that exists for our students of color.”
Newton South’s Legacy Scholars students meet every other long advisory as a way to connect with one another and discuss specific topics that may be sensitive to the students in other settings.
The program hopes to connect and bring together the majority of high achieving students of color and begin to build an open dialogue.
“Unfortunately, most high achieving black and brown students are often by themselves in these upper level classes so we wanted to identify who they were and bring them together,” Sumner said. “They have a chance to be around each other and talk about what are some of the challenges they face.”
Additionally, Gagnon says that the program presents a beneficial way for high achieving students of color to acknowledge one another’s achievements.
“Often times, for our students of color, there are only one or two students in the AP or honors classes, so it was great for us to be able to bring them together and for them to see that there really is a significant number of students who are both high achieving and identify themselves as African American or Latino/Latina,” Gagnon explained.
Sumner says that though this program has seen success, some minor challenges were present during the beginning process.
“One challenge was recruiting the kids, because it was our first year and most of the kids had no idea what this program was about,” Sumner said. “We had to convince a lot of students to come and check out this program, but for a pilot, it was great.”
Now that the program has reached its second year at South, this recruitment problem has diminished as the Legacy Scholars becomes more prominent.
Junior Khyla Turner, a co-president of the Black Student Union, says that her leadership within her club has greatly improved since joining the Legacy Scholars program.
“My success in one has not been possible with my success in the other. The Legacy program has opened my eyes to different perspectives and allowed me to share new opinions with the people of Black Student Union,” Turner said.
Furthermore, Turner agrees that the program has exposed her to a group of students who both understand and face the same challenges she does and also exposed her to teachers who are willing to help.
However, Turner admits that she wishes the community met more frequently, thus allowing her to spend more time with the students each week.
“During our meetings is when I feel the safest in school,” Turner said. “One con is that we don’t meet frequently. If this program is chosen as a two block elective, students would be more likely to show on a consistent basis.”
Senior Jadon Smith agrees with Turner’s statement on desiring more frequent meetings as a community as the infrequency hinders the program’s capabilities.
“I would say we don’t have much time together,” Smith said. “We only meet twice a month on Tuesdays during advisory, so our time spent together can feel very rushed.”
Despite this infrequency, Smith says that the program still provides great support and encouragement to the students as both high achievers and students of color.
“When you are a student of color, it can be very hard to find support in a predominantly white school. Legacy Scholars supports those students of color and also rewards them for their success,” said Smith.
Adding on, Gagnon says that as South reaches its second year of running the program, the school can start to minimize the stereotypes the students of color face by showing these students that there is a significant population of students like them.
Once these negative stereotypes are diminished, The Legacy Scholars program hopes to encourage students of color to perform at their best.
“Sometimes, when they [students of color] are in a situation where they have to perform, the added stress of having to consider what the negative stereotypes are can impact their ability to perform…Our hope is to put them in a position where they can do their best work, and where they can help us as a school to serve as an exemplar for younger students of color,” Gagnon said.