Student voices inspire MUSD champions course
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Jeremiah Goodman, Class of 2021, gets a hug from an MUSD staff member during a break at an in-service training session. Goodman was one of the guest speakers.
Learners become teachers
Organizers of Madera Unified’s special in-service training, which is aimed at creating stronger relationships between the district’s employees and its students, turned to its clients last week to identify why some feel undervalued and neglected by the establishment.
Through a series of video interviews and in-person appearances, students told teachers and classified employees about the inadequacies and isolation some feel at school, and many held the adults accountable. It was a message MUSD superintendent Todd Lile wanted the district’s employees to hear.
“For years, we have worked to create a better, safer working space, and it has worked to an extent,” Lile said. “Now we must listen — have tough conversations — and make changes to insure we are paying attention to the areas where we might fall short because sometimes it takes our students to open our eyes to that.” As it turned out, Lile was as good as his word. The students had a great deal to say at the in-service.
“A student shouldn’t have to feel like they don’t fit in their own school.” Mary Idowu, Class of 2020.
“As African American students, we are forced to grow up a little earlier because we have to come to terms with racism at an early age.” Jeremiah Goodman, class of 2021.
“You don’t draw the line on racism; you don’t draw the line when a student is calling another student the N-word on social media.” Giovanni Prudente, class of 2021.
“The school promotes having pride in yourself, but when you do, they actually squash it.” Samara Pomering, class of 2021.
The tone for this student involvement was set in the general sessions of last week’s Student Champion course by live appearances of two powerful speakers, both MUSD graduates, Jeremiah Goodman and Giovanni Prudente.
Addressing two audiences of more than a thousand each, the former Madera students told it like it was.
Goodman moved to Madera from Fresno as a child. When he enrolled in school, he was the only black student in his class. Goodman said it was intimidating. “It felt like nobody wanted me there, nobody wanted me in those classes.”
One experience from those early years stands out in Goodman’s memory. While riding in the car with his mother, they pulled into the driveway and there someone had painted the “N” word on their gate. It was a devastating exposure to something that would plague the youngster in the years to come.
Goodman related how once he had tried to join some students in a basketball game at school. He was made to understand in no uncertain terms that black students were not welcome in that game.
Goodman then hit the fast forward button and took his audience to a civics class on the first day of his senior year. Due to the COVID pandemic, distance learning was the order of the day. With the class connected via Zoom, the teacher was instructing when a student who was not part of the class hacked into the discussion and wrote, “I hate ”N…..s.” As the only black student in the class, Goodman froze, feeling targeted and humiliated.
Expecting the teacher to address the situation, Goodman did not react. The teacher, however, only continued the lecture without comment. Goodman recalls that he felt uncared for when no one spoke up.
Following Goodman to the podium, Prudente shared some of his own troubling experiences in school, which included serious thoughts of suicide. Prudente told how he struggled with his identity as a biracial child growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood. He shared how most of his self-destructive thoughts some way originated from his experiences as a gay student in MUSD. Told to “be the person that you are,” Prudente related that when students followed that advice, they were viewed as “obnoxious.”
“Just let us talk,” Prudente urged. “Let us be — give us the outlet to have discussions — if conversation is uncomfortable, it is worth having.”
Prudente says that in all of his years in MUSD, there were no spaces or opportunities for him to feel comfortable with himself and his feelings. He felt that no one understood his feelings of isolation, and that made it much easier for him to fall into a cycle of self-destruction.
Prudente says that growing up, he experienced the lack of a support system at home, hence, MUSD became his surrogate parents. He looked up to the adults and teachers who made an effort to build a relationship with him. However, the teachers he didn’t have the best experience with didn’t realize how destructive their words and actions could be. Prudente thinks this strongly contributed to his battle with anxiety and depression.
Prudente is a sophomore at UCLA studying political science, English and philosophy with a focus on pre-law and politics. He says working on the MUSD student bill of rights, being a former student body president, and being active with the community has inspired him “to use his experiences to help build a better country and world.”
Goodman is now a second-year psychology/pre-med major at Morehouse College. He chose that area of study because the medical field has always captivated him. “I’ve always looked at the people in that field with great admiration, and I would love to be a part of it,” states Goodman.
The Madera Tribune will continue its series on Madera Unified’s Student Champion course by looking next at how the district is attempting to establish its own identity.