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NBC Visits East CH Social Justice Academy

Did you know NBC News visited East Chapel Hill High School (ECHHS) this summer to record a segment about the Social Justice Academy (SJA)? Did you even know there is a thriving, 500+ student thematic academy at ECHHS that focuses on studying the world through lenses of tolerance, fairness and equity? Watching the August 13 NBC segment is a good starting place to learn more.

During late July, an NBC News producer heard about the Academy at ECHHS and emailed Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Causby for a contact. The conversation started with a producer, Eric Salzman, and Director of Humanities and Healthful Living, Dr. Christy Stanley. Salzman wanted to learn more about the SJA as a potential subject for their ongoing education series, “Inequality in America.” “They were hoping to identify people who were doing it ‘right,’” said Stanley, “to promote as a newsworthy story.

Stanley provided Salzman with a general overview of the Social Justice Academy, as well as enrollment numbers, and then she directed him to Brian Link, director of the SJA and Civics and Economics teacher at ECHHS.

A couple of weeks later, the NBC team arrived at ECHHS to interview Link and two SJA students, Miles Charles and Natalie Varmes. “We did the interviews together in a safe, socially distanced fashion in East's library, with the help of Mr. Proulx, Mr. East who helped with tech and logistics and Jeff Nash, who did a great job preparing us for the interviews,” Link said. “It was a really positive experience, and I'm thankful for all the support that was provided to the students and myself.”

SJA and NBC

The final news segment is titled “Re-examining US History Textbooks to Promote Equality in the Classroom,” and it runs just over two and a half minutes, with Link and his students receiving less than a minute of air time. But that’s the way of news editing, and Link, Charles and Varmes were able to maximize their message to viewers.

“We talked about so much more than was aired,” Link said. “I do want to acknowledge my amazing colleagues in the Academy who helped gather their excellent lessons, examples of student work, etc. on short notice to help illuminate the necessary and rewarding work being done at East around developing a rigorous and diverse curriculum, as well as opportunities to learn, lead, and help others both in and out of the classroom.” 

Link continued, “Listening to the passion, sincerity, and interest of Miles, Natalie, and my colleagues' positive accounts of their experiences with the Academy was confirmation why the Social Justice Academy has grown from ~100 students when I took over as director 10 years ago to now more than ~500.”

"The best thing about being part of the Social Justice Academy has been the teachers,” Charles said. “They teach classes in a way that challenges us to think, write and talk about history, current events, and literature from a social justice perspective. We learn how systems and policies have been used to create deep divisions by race, gender, income and other social factors in our society. SJA teachers make history interesting by helping us make connections between what happened in the past and what is happening around us today."

“I think the interview was a great opportunity for Natalie and Miles to really reflect on their learning these past four years,” said Link, “and verbalize what an amazing job of broadening their horizons and frankly teaching other students and faculty about what social justice means and looks like to today's high school students -- be it ending gun violence or systemic racism in schools and in our communities.”   

“It also was a chance to share how ALL of the teachers in the Academy and teachers at East more broadly are putting forth the effort to make learning more inclusive and meaningful, making hidden histories and stories visible, so that students from all backgrounds and walks of life can see him/herself in curriculums.” Link said the SJA focus on developing student leadership, communication, organization and research skills allows students to make and lead change in our school and community.”  

“Finally, it was an invaluable opportunity for Miles and Natalie to learn how the media works and to speak-up and out to a national audience for the change they want -- Black Lives Matter -- they have actively led in and out of school to achieve a more just, equitable, and tolerant society,” said Link.

“For anyone who tells you no one watches TV, or national news these days, the number of emails and phone calls I received from folks all around the country wanting to know more about what we do, to talk through how to set up similar academies in their districts, help with curriculum design development, and to assist and join social justice organizations and campaigns has been both flattering/overwhelming,” Link said.