Rhode Island · School Talk

Student Voice: How Her School Came Together in Unity on the Heels of Election ’16

Annavonh Phasouvor, Senior at Central High School and aspiring English teacher.

This guest post is written by Annavonh Phasouvor, a senior at Central High School. 

Central High School in Providence, Rhode Island came together two days after the election in a moment of unity. The idea for “United As One” was hatched as election results poured in and it spread through the school community on Twitter. The goal was to spread the message of togetherness and unity during a time that was very difficult for so many in our school family.  Students, teachers, the Superintendent and even our city mayor attended the peaceful act at 2:30 to link arms and hold hands to show that “We are Central Strong.”

Our principal, Julia Carlson, called it a way “to connect with our school family and show all that nothing can divide us.”

We had to do something. After the election, many students in my school and across the country felt afraid and uncertain of what the future holds. We have come so far as a nation to overcome “hatred” so the election of a president who actually used hateful words in his campaign was (and is still is) unsettling.  We need the adults in our lives –especially at school –to lead the way and show us that we will make it through, together, as a unified body.

Locking arms with students we didn’t know made me feel confident that we can join together and make change little by little. – Senior, Tylia Baptista

Before the unity event took place, I was a bit afraid. I worried that people’s emotions might come bursting out and even become explosive.  Feelings were still so raw. There was a handful of students who chose not to attend the unity event and at one point, I too was indecisive about joining my fellow students and our faculty outside. Looking back, I realize I made the right decision by joining my peers. In fact, the event ended up being exactly what I needed to work through my uncertainty and realize that we do need to come together as a school and as a nation.

How Did We Get Here?

During the week of the election anxiety grew among the students as each day brought us closer to that final day. Students expressed themselves on social media via Twitter and Facebook and the buzz was different than usual. It wasn’t the typical concerns of prom, graduation or the upcoming holidays but instead, fear of what many saw as the misdirection of the United States.

I have to imagine that many schools all across the country saw the same interruptions to classroom instruction as we at Central High School in the weeks and days leading up to the election. Students were speaking out about what they saw going on in the world and teachers had to pivot so that students could vent. And be heard. And be guided. The conversations were helpful because they helped us, the students, realize the importance of becoming more educated about the election process as well as about how to cope when the person we wanted to win –and even voted for — loses.  And they reminded us too that we need to become informed about what is going in our world locally, nationally, and globally so that when we are all able to vote, we will make educated decisions.

After the results of the election were in and the winner was Donald Trump, the concern that grew within the kids’ became much more real and in our school, that concern was mostly felt around the issues of LGBT rights and immigration. We had always seen ourselves as a nation of immigrants and in our case, a school of immigrants, and students’ fears immediately became personal. There is something scary when a campaign is largely based on building a wall and suddenly, you feel fear for your own grandmother, aunts, uncles, and even parents.

As I passed out posters for the event, I saw first hand the faces of my peers, my classmates, my friends. I saw fear, distress, and worry and seeing that filled me with emotion too. Some students hugged, some students cried in the corner of the hallways. Everything felt different.

So we came together to spread a message of unity and togetherness. Students, staff, administrators, and community leaders surrounded Central High School by locking arms and holding hands to symbolize that together, as a community, we have each other. We stood proudly, side by side clinging to one another with some even holding up signs representing who they are to their community. We chanted our school name — Central — as people emerged from the circle and walked around the building, it was if excitement was helping to burst the worry out of people. We were hugging one another. People we didn’t even know. There were school representatives and community representatives like our Mayor Jorge Elorza walking around the school shaking hands, one by one, down the line. Chris Maher,  Superintendent of Providence Public Schools was taking pictures with groups of students as they proudly held up their signs.

Superintendent Chris Maher with students at “United As One” event.

At the end of the event, we felt proud to be part of such a supportive school and community. So many walked away at the end of the day, smiling. 

I was happy to see lots of smiles from everyone. Also I love the chance to do something that promotes togetherness and mutual support for the community. The students and adults were so positive and really I think we all benefited from this event. – David Salvas, World History Teacher

Moving Forward

As we move forward, I hope that students and our community as a whole feel a stronger bond knowing that we can all come together at any time of need. I hope other schools will see our Unity Day and consider doing something similar to bring hope and help everyone see that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. We still can have an impact on the future and in shaping shape these United States.  And we can model for students and others how to carry ourselves in a positive way even though we feel tremendous internal conflict. We can present a unified front. 

When Principal Carlson was asked why it was important for her, as the leader of Central High School, to spread the message of unity, she said this:

 Because you all are a part of my life. You are my family and when you are feeling scared or full of anxiety, I want to make it go away. I want you all to know our school is your safe place and I, and your teachers, are always here for you.

“UNITED AS ONE” – We are one. Our school is one. Our community is one. Nothing can divide us. Nothing can or ever will.

Annavonh Phasouvor has been a student at Central since 9th grade. She participates in the Yearbook Club, the LGBT Club, Student Body Government, the Student Activity Committee, the Senior Mentor Program, and My Brother’s Keeper Mentor Program. She is interested in poetry, writing, journalism, photography, and becoming a Secondary Teacher for English.



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