OPRF aims to support students of color at new event


On the evening of Sept. 27, the South Cafeteria was packed with local families. OPRF students enthusiastically greeted people at the door and answered questions. Leaders of academic divisions and support staff sat at a dozen tables on the side of the cafeteria explaining their available resources.

Lynda Parker, the assistant superintendent and principal, gave one of the speeches during the evening. “Your faces are so important to each and every one of us, and I want to make sure that you hear me say that and that you know that,” she said. “I want to hear from you. I want to hear from your parents, and I want to work with you in order to make this school everything we had always hoped it will be, and what we know it can be.”

Renée Ruffin-Merril, a parent of a freshman, explained that she came to the event to “know and see other people of color on campus and get to know what departments they’re in, find out who’s where and what kind of resources are available to her.”

Ruffin-Merril thought that “seeing staff and other students of color, and seeing other families that are also wanting to be active and involved in the school” is important in order to “engage this vital section of the OPRF community and help us feel seen and involved.” Lauren Thrasher, another parent of a freshman student at OPRF, said, “I’m excited to learn about the different opportunities that you have here at the school as well as in the community. It helps the actual students that are here know that they are supported and appreciated.” The event was organized by Ty Garland, the community outreach coordinator at OPRF. Garland said that he has a background in college admissions, so he knows the value of building a strong resume before graduating. “I’ve noticed that with a lot of black and brown kids there’s not a lot of direction when it comes to after school activities, knowing the building, basically setting themselves up so that once before they leave, they have options,” he said.

Parker also encouraged families to speak up about concerns, emphasizing that she wants everyone to believe that “you make the school what the school is, and I want to make sure you are represented in all aspects of that. That also means in our learning spaces, it is critical to me to make sure that you feel you fit in those spaces,” said Parker. “Are we where we want to be? Never.” she continued. “I don’t know that we should ever be satisfied with where we are and ever stop trying to grow as a community of learners and as a family in this building. But I do believe that we have come a long way.”

Cherylynn Jones-McLeod, the director of campus safety, also gave her insight, saying “Part of safety is creating a welcoming environment. If your students do not feel welcome into the space, they won’t respect the space and they will have all these safety issues.” She added, “Anytime you need us, we are always here.”

According to Garland, Places and Faces was “a successful event, but we want to get the word out even more.” Garland’s goal is for the next Places and Faces to reach 100 people.
Garland said he is “excited for the next one,” because he knows it’s going to be “even better and bigger than the first.”