WESTBROOK — The high school’s Civil Rights Team is sharing their perspective virtually with a larger audience in its effort to make the school inclusive for all students.

Rising out of a statewide initiative over three years ago, the Civil Rights Team focuses on equity issues at the school and on providing perspectives to represent the diversity in the student body.

Through their “Tea Talks” series, the team, which has roughly 15-20 regular members, has been holding conversations and workshops with students and teachers about the experiences of students with different backgrounds in Westbrook.

While in previous years classes may have met with the team in the school library, the new virtual talks due to the pandemic have brought in more staff and students than before, said senior Noor Abduljaleel.

Abduljaleel said that she was drawn to the team during her sophomore year after transitioning from English learning classes to honors and AP courses, where she often felt at odds with the curriculum that focused on Eurocentric views rather than Middle Eastern issues and stories she related to.

In the English learning classes, she said, she was with students who were also “newcomers.”

“So it felt safer as an environment, but switching to honors and AP it was very different,” Abduljaleel said. “It was hard to be the only person different from the rest of the group, especially going over the content, their experiences and histories. I felt like an outlier.”

The team, Abduljaleel said, aims to make that transition easier by reaching out to students who may also feel left out, while at the same time offering up their opinions and thoughts to the rest of the school, making students of color and from other backgrounds “feel heard.”

“Our students are super motivated to make people feel comfortable,” teacher moderator Leah Douglass said. “They’ve met and worked with other groups like our multicultural group or Black Student Union.”

Previous Tea Talks focused on racial, religious, gender and sexual equity in school curriculum. After the attack on the Capitol in Washington last week, these talks are especially needed, Abduljaleel.

“It mostly feels like a support system for us, there is a small community where people may have the same feelings or perspective as you, not necessarily the same – I have different perspectives and thoughts – but we need a place at this time in history to listen,” she said.

Abduljaleel and the team are working on a series of school-wide discussions.

“Students will go into a breakout room to discuss a certain topic or prompt and create a dialogue regarding that prompt,” she said. “The Civil Rights Team with other clubs in our high school will be joining in the school-wide dialogue session on the events and ongoing dynamics of the last week in D.C. and other issues that we’re facing as a nation daily.”

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