Nature's Classroom has responded to the outraged parents of an African-American student who portrayed an escaped slave during a school field trip activity that included participants using the n-word. Sandra and James Baker told the Hartford Conn. school board this week that the school activity had left their daughter and other students "terrorized" and had subjected them to "social and emotional abuse."
Nature's Classroom has since responded with a message on its Facebook page defending the school activity, and stating that it was adamently against the use of the n-word, and that it had no record of the word being used that night.
"Our goal is to introduce students to some of the complexities and difficulties surrounding slavery, understand the courage it took to run, the courage it took to assist those running, and to draw connection between discrimination and prejudice then and discrimination and prejudice today," wrote Nature's Classrom Director John Santos.
"During staff training, Nature's Classroom teachers have conversations about appropriate and inappropriate language during this activity. This particular staff had a very specific conversation about never using the n-word," he added. "No Nature's Classroom teacher that was present that night, that we have been able to question so far, reports using or hearing the use of the n-word at any point during that night or in their careers as Nature's Classroom teachers."
"Our goal is to introduce students to some of the complexities and difficulties surrounding slavery, understand the courage it took to run, the courage it took to assist those running, and to draw connection between discrimination and prejudice then and discrimination and prejudice today."
Sandra Baker, whose daughter attended Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy last school year, said last fall's four-day field trip included a slavery re-enactment, where her daughter and other students played runaway slaves.
The Bakers also reported that on the third night the students were packed together in a dark room to simulate a slave ship, and told they were hiding from their "white masters," who were played by instructors.
Baker said the school had not informed parents of the activity and that she was blindsided when her daughter discussed the activity with her.
"I said, 'How was your trip?'" Baker told The Hartford Courant. "She started telling me what happened. I was like, 'What?' I was stunned. ... We crossed all our t's and dotted all our i's. This, I didn't see coming."
Baker and her husband James filed a human rights complaint against the Hartford school system in March. A spokesperson for the Hartford school system said he was unable to comment because the human rights commission was "a quasi-judicial proceeding."
Earlier, Santos told the Hartford Courant that the program, though not real, was meant to build empathy.
"The activity that has validity, it's an historical event, it's a simulation," Santos said, adding that the primary objectives of the programming were to make young people more sensitive to a "complex world" and to build "awareness of physical and emotional and cultural supremacy over another."
"It's a very, very heartfelt understanding of an underclassed group ... a personal reaction to the historical event, bringing it to bear on day-to-day living," he said.