While there is no love lost between many of us and the Richmond County Board of Education, we feel that our invaluable experience at Hephzibah High School is particular to the current demographic composition of the Hephzibah community and its schools. While some of our alumni have left the region, most of us still live in the CSRA and continue to be invested in Hephzibah. We are now, 10 years out, scientists, pastors, pipefitters, doctors, teachers, small-business owners, parents, artists and military service members.
WHAT MADE HEPHZIBAH High a special place was the distinct integration of different races and socioeconomic levels within our student body. In 2004, our racial demographics were composed of a nearly even split of black and white students, with a handful of Asian, Native American and Latino kids thrown in the mix. Some were from old Hephzibah families, others were the children of military personnel and fewer were recent transplants from Augusta proper. We spent our adolescence working on math problems and sweating through sports practices with fellow students who did not share our skin color, home challenges or future aspirations.
We can think of another place where integrated problem-solving and physical labor happen regularly: the real world. The alumni of Hephzibah High School have been particularly well-adjusted and prepared for success in the real world for the past few decades because we faced the realities of mixed work environments early and often.
And this statement is not just a case of misplaced nostalgia for our youth. Many of us lived the hard realities of youths spent as underprivileged individuals in Augusta – working on our parents’ farms; helping raise our siblings and cousins; watching our friends and relatives die by violence; being discriminated against because of our race; or consistently being treated as a voiceless mass that needs to be “dealt with” rather than included in political discourse in the CSRA. The list goes on.
We are not ashamed of these facts; we are proud of who we are and our individual journeys. The time we spent surrounded by one another, fighting through the problems systemically connected to these individual journeys, side-by-side, allowed us to grow into the resilient and productive adults we are today.
CREATING A NEW charter school in Hephzibah, with attendance borders drawn suspiciously similar to the geographic racial lines in our community, would eliminate the possibility that future graduates could benefit from a similar experience. The stated goal of the proposed school – “to challenge students to reach their full potential” – comes with the implication that the current schools fail to do so. Given not only the high performance of students in Hephzibah schools, but also the fact that Hephzibah High offers a multitude of educational and vocational tracks to allow students of any talent to succeed, we believe this is little more than a veiled attempt to resegregate and homogenize the student experience in the Hephzibah community.
We applaud the state of Georgia for denying the most recent application for state funds to support the charter school, and hope that this is the last we will hear of this effort, for the good of the greater Hephzibah community.
(The writer is a doctoral candidate in anthropology/archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis.)