Hanna Barczyk (hannabarczyk.com)
A crowd of students milled about aimlessly — the doors were locked. Hoods on, shoulders slumped, huddled together to avoid the cold morning wind. They exchanged looks and morning yawns. Every face was Black or Brown. Suddenly, a loud buzz. The doors unlocked. Bodies filed in one by one, feet barely lifting off the cement. At the first set of doors, a petite white woman greeted each person. She stuck out her hand, expecting a firm handshake and eye contact. If anyone did not meet her standards, she sent them to the back of the line to try again.
After passing through the first checkpoint, the students silently climbed a staircase and stripped off their winter clothes. The rules were clear: all jackets, hats, and gloves had to be removed. Everyone had to be in uniform. If anyone failed to complete that task, they were taken into a side room to finish the job.
At the top of the stairs stood another white woman. Everyone also had to give her a firm handshake with satisfactory eye contact. In addition, she offered every person the command: “belt.” On cue, each individual raised their shirt to prove that they were, in fact, wearing a belt. If the woman surmised that someone lifted their shirt in a sassy manner or demonstrated “attitude,” she directed them into a side room. If a person messed up their uniform in the process of revealing their belt, they too were ushered into the side room to re-tuck their shirt and redo the presentation.
Finally, the group entered a large open area. They sat silently in rows, fidgeting uncomfortably. Many of their bodies were too big for the small space mandated for them. As they awaited instructions, there were two options: read silently or stare off into space. There was no noise. No chatter. No laughter. No fun.
After 10 minutes, another white woman emerged. She dismissed each row individually. The silence remained. If a person made a sound or stood up too soon, the woman ordered the entire row to sit back down and try again. The task had to be performed to her exact specifications. As the room gradually emptied, the bodies trudged off in a variety of directions for other checkpoints.
It felt like some sort of prison. At best, it resembled some kind of Dickensian factory, ruled with an iron — and white — fist. In reality, this is the daily routine at STRIVE Prep-Green Valley Ranch, a Denver public charter school that in 2016–17 housed some 120 6th graders, 120 7th graders, and 120 8th graders.
These children are not inmates, they are middle schoolers.