Diversity Week at Catonsville High

Jude Wacker, of Catonsville, raps with his friend, Jordan Scruggs, of Woodlawn, left, before a crowd of students in the cafeteria at Catonsville High School during Diversity Week. (Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio / May 2, 2014)

Their lunch break was an opportunity for Catonsville High School students to get out of their comfort zones Friday.

Students were encouraged to eat lunch with those outside of their normal social circles on May 2 as part of the school's seventh annual Diversity Week.

Lunch tables were labeled by month and a description of the month's corresponding zodiac sign, to help students realize what they have in common.

Cristina Dalton, a teacher supervising the students at lunch, said the school's experiment was a success.

"I saw some of them sitting at different tables and talking with students they don't normally talk to," said the Spanish teacher.

Beverly Hickman, assistant principal said the week featured a number of special activities. Those events included videos of seven students speaking about personal experiences relating to diversity, a black and white photo project of 75 students and 25 faculty members, performances and a door decoration project

"The idea to have Diversity Week began when we saw the diversity in our school increasing," said Hickman, assistant principal of the school.

At lunch on Friday afternoon, Jordan Scruggs, of Woodlawn, and Jude Wacker, of Catonsville, rapped before a crowd of students and teachers in the cafeteria.

"We're showing our skills right now and having fun," said Wacker, a senior.

The best friends celebrated their cultural differences through a song about how they're similar despite their differences. Scruggs is black and Wacker is white.

Scruggs, a junior, transferred to the school last year from Milford Mill Academy. He said when he came to Catonsville High he, "fell in love with the differences."

Both said they believe racial and cultural differences will eventually become a distant memory.

Another student, Sadia Islam, 17, of Catonsville did a traditional Indian dance with her friend, Shahricka Anwar. Sadia is from Bangladesh, a country bordered by India on the west. That close proximity means she is often mistaken for being Indian, which can be "frustrating," Sadia said.

Their performance began with a traditional Indian dance, and ended as a dance from Bangladesh, to express the common misconception that they're from India, to express unity of the country after it gained its independence from Pakistan and to show that despite cultural differences people are similar.

Sadia, who speaks very good English, moved to the U.S. from Bangladesh four years ago with her family.

She said it was difficult integrating with the other students, but classmates at Catonsville High have been welcoming.

During the week, every morning, except for Wednesday, began with a video of a student talking about a personal experience of being different, Hickman said. The videos were coordinated by English teachers Brian and Cassandra Barber, who videotaped seven students the week before at different spots around the school.

Cassandra Barber said many students were quiet after the videos were shown.

"I think they enjoyed the videos and I think their silence spoke volumes," Barber said.

"I think that the students realized that they have stronger connections to people they don't know or they're not the only ones going through certain situations," Barber said. "And they feel accepted also."

Another photo project organized by art teacher Jeanette Czajkowski, emulated the "What I Be Project" by artist Steve Rosenfield, a series of photographs that depict a person with an insecurity written on their skin.

"It's like a photo confessional," Czajkowski said. "And it allowed the students who may not have wanted to be on video, to participate in the project and express themselves."

Czajkowski said she received a positive response from students and faculty about the project.

"We really have gone...from the conventional diversity of race, ethnicity and culture to hidden diversity," Hickman said.

Hickman said they now include students who are different because they are gay, have a disability or have an eating disorder, for example.

Barber and Czajkowski said their projects allowed students and teachers to come together.

It was beneficial to teachers because they had the opportunity to interact with students they don't see on a daily basis, they said.

"Teachers got the opportunity to work with students they don't normally get to speak with," Barber said.