Jonny Fernandez, a Hispanic student, said he came to Penn Manor to get away from the fights and racial violence in his urban high school.
So far he hasn’t been disappointed.
“I feel more comfortable here than at my old school,” he said.
Many other minority students expressed similar sentiments, although some expressed the complete opposite after transferring to Penn Manor, a mostly white, mostly suburban and rural high school that has experienced racial incidents in the past.
Laronn Lee, an African American student who transferred here this year, says he’s never felt uncomfortable either, “everybody’s pretty friendly.”
That leads to the question, is racism still going on in Penn Manor?
“Yes to the tenth power,” said Lashaya Baker a minority, “but it doesn’t matter because ya’ll can’t get me outta here.”
“There’s a difference in being afraid of being jumped in the hallway and being called a name,” said Quay Hanna, a race-relations consultant hired by Penn Manor in 1997 when tensions here reached a boiling point. “Sometimes it’s a matter of different cultures rather than different races,” Hanna said.
“Sometimes I hear people talk about their parents being (racist),” reported Alyssa Figueroa.
Hanna said some fears of racism at Penn Manor are based on the past, widely publicized, incident but it’s also based on stereotypes people have put on different school districts, deserved or not.
“I’ve actually had a student say that he heard that the gym was used on the weekends for klan meetings,” said Hanna. “Many students are told to watch their backs when they come here, especially if they’re coming from different cultural backgrounds. All of this is untrue, but rumors are powerful and hard to dispel unless one is here and able to speak against the lies.”
Many of the views observed here contrast with each other and many echo the same tune.
“Its not that it’s so much racial tension here, just uncomfortable,” said Natasha Fletcher, although Fletcher said she has never had a racial incident here in Penn Manor school district she still feels that not everybody is showing their true colors.
In 1997, some Caucasian students wore all white t-shirts in support of a fellow classmate suspended for initiating a fight with an African American student.
Now more than 10 years later there hasn’t been another major racial incident and students seem to be heading in the right direction even though the number of minorities attending the high school has more than doubled.
Minorities represented 5 percent of the total school district population in 1999-2000 and they now make up 13 percent, according to official state records.
The Hispanic population has grown fastest. According to the Pa. Department of Education statistics, in 1999, there were 109 Hispanic students in Penn Manor. That population has more than tripled since then to 361 students. Likewise, the white student population has decreased in the past eight years. White students numbered 5,161 in 1999. Now there are 4,536 white students.
Many students of color say that they do not really feel tension here, but are uncomfortable, not just because they are the minority but because they are misunderstood.
“People are afraid of what they don’t know,” Marcos Rivera said.
However, more and more students from the most polar of backgrounds are becoming more accepting and more aware of unjust stereotypes.
More than a dozen students, mostly minorities, were interviewed at Penn Manor on this issue, among them were several white students.
“I think it’s great, we need more diversity,” proclaimed Abby Newport, a white student.
“It’s a good thing because all of the minorities will become the majority,” said Josh Herr, another white student.
“It’s the 21st century and I think it’s time everyone is accepted,” said Morgan Fletcher.
“I think Penn Manor has more to offer than (my old school),” said Ariela Contreras, a minority student.
In every story there are two sides, two views, but one truth. Although it has become clear that racism has not quite left from this school, or from this world for that matter, it is evident that it’s getting the hint from students who go to school here.
By: Robert Henry