From a Latino student at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring: "Maybe you know the stuff they're teaching and everything, but the language is kind of making you not understand. You would think that people would support you and help you with everything you need, but it's not true."
From an African American student at the same school: "If you do well academically, you're acting white. I mean, if you know something that you're not supposed to know because you're black, or anything except white, I guess that you're acting white, but I don't see it as acting white, I just see it as applying yourself."
And from an Asian student at Montgomery Blair: "I'm scared sometimes, because in China, I understand the language. Some teachers speak so fast."
These are three of the students seen on "Faces of MCPS," a television feature debuting this month during "Education Matters," the 30-minute program produced by the Montgomery County public school system and broadcast on Comcast Channel 34.
The program is hosted by Board of Education President Nancy Navarro, who came up with the idea of showcasing the school system's diversity by featuring students talking about their experiences, challenges and needs. The series also has commentary by educators and community leaders who are knowledgeable about the issues the students discuss.
"It is important and beneficial to spotlight our student population, given that we do a lot of demographic reports and talk about numbers, but hardly ever do we put a face to what those numbers mean," Navarro (Northeastern County) said.
Minorities make up the majority of students in the school system: Of nearly 138,000 students, 41.3 percent are white, 22.9 percent are black, 20.7 percent are Hispanic, 14.8 percent are Asian American and 0.3 percent are Native American.
The first part of the series focuses on Latino and black students and those for whom is English is a second language. Todd Hochkeppel, a writer and producer for the program, said he and a crew in the instructional television department asked students at Montgomery Blair a dozen or so questions about their school experiences to "get some idea of what life for them is like." The students were chosen by the school's ESOL coordinator or randomly picked by TV crew members as they walked through the hallways.
The 10-minute segments include the comments of students from several racial and ethnic groups, followed by short discussions about issues they raised. Commenting are Navarro and Diana Sayago, ESOL parent community coordinator; Crystal DeVance-Wilson, chairman of the Parents' Council of the NAACP; and Angela Kim, ESOL parent community coordinator.
The students are not identified, partly because of the sensitivity of some of their comments and partly "to make the point that not just this one student" has the opinions expressed, Hochkeppel said.
"We're pulling those bites out that kind of resonate with what students are feeling across the board," he added.
The program will cover the system's diverse groups, focusing in upcoming shows on African immigrant students, Middle Eastern students, white students, special-needs students and others. The second part of the series, which begins airing in mid-March, will feature students at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington and John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring.
Future segments may tackle student opinions on issues such as high school assessments, Advanced Placement classes, risky behavior and other topics, Navarro said.
DeVance-Wilson, who spoke on a show about issues facing African American students, said in an interview that she thought the series was a "good effort" by the school system to show "how going to school is different for everybody, depending on their culture and their beliefs."
However, she's hoping that the producers can choose a better cross section of the student population for upcoming shows. She didn't think that the black students, who seemed mostly to be high-achieving students, were "an accurate representation of what every African American student experiences in school."
DeVance-Wilson is hoping the series can also feature students who may not be as successful, along with discussions about what can be done to support them. "I want that for all of the groups," she said. "I don't want to give a false sense of anything to anybody."
Viewers can see "Faces of MCPS" on "Education Matters," Comcast Channel 34, this month and in early March at the following times: Mondays and Fridays at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The series is expected to continue past March.