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Digital Harbor is diverse, united

Digital Harbor High School is a diverse, inclusive and successful school that prepares students for computer technology careers, college and productive citizenship.

Recent media coverage about tensions among small groups of black and Latino students would suggest a divisive culture, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our demographics, philosophy and daily dealings with each other belie such a notion.

Our 1,352 students — roughly three quarters of which are male to one quarter female — come from every sector of the city and 35 countries. The student body is 74 percent black, 13 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander/American Indian/Alaskan Native. Most of our students, about 79 percent, receive free or reduced lunch, 19 percent receive special education services, and 6 percent have limited English proficiency. Any Baltimore City student can apply to Digital Harbor, and students are chosen by lottery, not grades or test scores.

Every club, class year committee and sport is diverse racially, ethnically and academically. Examples of tolerance and acceptance abound.

Digital Harbor holds a huge International Fair every spring that is well-attended and highly popular. The Class of 2014 students chose a black athlete as prom king and a white transgender student as prom queen.

The Valedictorian and his twin brother, who was voted Best All Around male student by the faculty, are political asylees from Guinea. (Last year's Best All Around student was a Nepali refugee who is now studying at Loyola.) They delivered their speeches in English and French to benefit family who came from Africa for the celebration. The Salutatorian and Best All Around female student, who is from El Salvador, spoke in English and Spanish about her belief in the American Dream.

The Outstanding Technology student was a Latina from Mexico. The Leadership Awardee and Class of 2014 President, a white student from South Baltimore, quoted Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Maya Angelou in his speech. The female Determination Award winner graduated in the top 5 percent of her class despite struggling with severe dyslexia. The male Determination Award winner brought many of the 1,000 attendees to tears when describing how his family overcame homelessness.

The 2014 Outstanding Young Alum award went to a 2010 DHHS student of Filipino heritage who recently graduated from Loyola University. A Digital Harbor alum and immigrant from Columbia delivered the student commencement speech at the University of Maryland College Park this year.

On June 4, 285 students of every background were cited in the Shining Stars awards assembly for accomplishments in academics, service, student activities and determination. The program began with original music by a refugee from Congo, the pledge to the flag was proudly recited in English and Spanish by a very recent Latino immigrant, followed by a Power Point titled We Are Digital prepared by a black student from Baltimore. The keynote speaker was an African American woman who was the DHHS 2013 Outstanding Young Alum. She is a track star and graduate of UMBC who is preparing for medical school. The program included patriotic songs by an all-white church choir from Mississippi, an anti-bullying essay by a student from Haiti, an interpretive dance by a Latina student from Puerto Rico. Finally, a female refugee from Congo who is also president of both student government and the junior class announced a performance by an all-black hip hop dance crew.

In the aftermath of the fights between those small groups of students, Principal Brian Eyer led meetings to discuss the issues. Representatives of CASA, NAACP, Baltimore School Police and other groups entered into dialogue with students and parents (with simultaneous translations to Spanish). Mr. Eyer stressed the need to look at the situation objectively and to understand the facts — basically that the underlying issue was between two students and not between ethnic/racial groups. He reminded parents to monitor social media because postings can be inflammatory and misleading. The meetings were interactive and healing and have resulted in practical suggestions about how to rebuild trust and ensure safety.

These are recent events — but inclusiveness, tolerance and a positive climate are present daily in classrooms at Digital Harbor. In my 44 years in Baltimore City Schools, I have not experienced a more diverse or vibrant school. Judge us by our long-term record, not by isolated incidents.

Andrea R. Bowden is assistant principal at Digital Harbor High School. Her email is abowden@bcps.k12.md.us.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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