AMHERST, Mass. – Recently, a social justice advocate speaking to Amherst Middle School students brought several of them to tears with what the district is now calling “developmentally inappropriate” content.
Calvin Terrell, the founder of the Social Centric Institute in Phoenix, AZ, has consulted with Amherst-Pelham schools on issues of racism and bullying for the past year.
According to the Gazette, when speaking to an assembly of 7th through 9th graders, Terrell asked the children to close their eyes and imagine two of their loved ones being shot to death.
Laura Wear, the mother of two girls who attended the assembly, told the news source that not only were her daughters asked to close their eyes and visualize loved ones being killed by a gunman while they watched, they were also told “to picture those relatives in their coffins and to imagine being chased down the school hall themselves by the shooter.”
Wear said, “It was my understanding that gunshot noises were being made during this description.”
Administrators admitted they were unaware of what Terrell’s approach would be and did not review the content of the presentation beforehand.
The Gazette reports that following the incident, a group of parents met with Amherst Pelham Regional Middle School principal Marisa Mendonsa. Before referring all questions about the incident to Superintendent Maria Geryk, Mendonsa sent a message to parents apologizing for not pre-approving Terrell’s material and for failing to notify parents that the assembly would take place.
Superintendent Geryk wrote an email to The Gazette stating, “While it was requested that the presentation be geared to a younger group of students, the content was not vetted prior to the presentation.”
“The outcome of this misstep was that content was presented which was developmentally inappropriate for the student population.”
Geryk also wrote that they are in the process of addressing the internal errors and will take steps to ensure that future presentations are properly approved.
According to the Gazette, several parents interviewed said their children told them that most students were crying and hugging each other during the assembly, while two parents interviewed said their children were not upset by the presentation, but were moved by it.
Wear, who told the news source that her 7th grade daughter was “very traumatized,” also said teachers had to escort some of the distraught children from the room.
Mass Live reported Friday that Geryk also sent an apology letter to parents. In her letter, Geryk wrote, “while many students found the assembly to be a powerful and motivating experience, I am very sorry that it was not a positive one for all students, which is our goal for all learning experiences in our schools.”
She also wrote that the parental notification and opt out form that was not sent to parents beforehand was “an error.”
Geryk is expected to discuss the controversial assembly in her report to the School Committee tonight.
Committee member, Trevor Baptiste told Mass Live that, while the item is not on the agenda, “Geryk will talk about it and the committee members will be able to ask questions.” Baptiste says he is expecting parents to attend.
Apology or no, Amherst administrators should have known that dragging students into discussions of very sensitive subjects is the core stratagem of the social justice movement. A quick look at Calvin Terrell’s website would have given them a good idea beforehand — assuming they didn’t already know.
Terrell’s site, although not as graphic and dramatically presented as his recent talk to Amherst middle schoolers, does make clear what his beliefs are and reveals the sensitive and controversial nature of the issues he often presents.
For example, on his site, Terrell compares the United States to Nazi Germany when attempting to explain why Thanksgiving is a “genocidal celebration…”, “where indignity, misinformation, and dishonor rests.”
Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, Terrell’s organization calls for a Forgiveness Fast and Black Friday Resistance, stating:
The Social Centric Institute would like to invite all backgrounds, beliefs, and colors of humankind living within these lands now called the United States of America to join us on this day and henceforth every fourth Thursday of November on the Gregorian calendar to fast for the culturecide and genocidal assault on Native or First Nations peoples of these lands.
According to the Gazette, Terrell was keynote speaker at last year’s national Minority Student Achievement Network convention held at Amherst Regional High School.
The Gazette spoke with Amherst College spokesperson Caroline Hanna, who said Terrell is working with some of their college students who will mentor Amherst school children in an Equity Leaders program.
“The college is paying Terrell $35,000 to $38,000 to lead training workshops on racial issues, including achievement gaps among students,” says Hanna.
There was no mention as to how much Terrell gets paid for his presentations in the district’s secondary schools.