The Educator’s Room Reviews WNYC’s “Keeping Score” Podcast
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Keeping Score is a brand new 4-part series from WNYC Studios and The Bell. The series follows the real students of one Brooklyn high school building that houses four separate schools and recently integrated their athletic programs. Keeping Score hopes to unearth the structural inequalities of our school system by taking a closer look at this community as it undertakes a modern integration experiment. If you are interested in the previous reviews, here are parts 1, 2, and 3.
The final episode of Keeping Score picks up where we left off: playoffs. The Jaguars beat their championship opponent, Bronx Science, earlier in the season, but they were tough competition. After getting stuck in traffic, the team arrives late to the game, rattled and feeling the immense pressure.
In the first set of the game, the Jaguars are coordinated and beat out the Bronx team. However, the tide turns in set two. A lot of referee calls and small mistakes rack up against the Jaguars. Bronx Science ends up winning the second set. The Jaguars hope to rally and get the win. Unfortunately, the John Jay girls can’t shake the pressure and lose to Bronx Science.
After the game, the players are understandably devastated. But Coach Mike Salak notices a different sentiment too: “A lot of girls were saying they weren’t sad because they lost, they were sad they weren’t going to be together anymore.” Meanwhile, Kali, one of the co-captains, wonders if the outcome would have been different if a more diverse group of girls had the opportunity to play in the big game.
A few days later, the team gathers in the library to celebrate the season and discuss their experience of the two teams’ integration. Despite the loss, the players are in good spirits, and many are eager to return next season. During their discussion, some girls bring up the challenges they faced. Mariah Morgan is one of the few players willing to share a negative experience. “This season was not fun for me,” Morgan says, “It was really hard being one of the darker-skinned Black girls on the team. We didn’t get access to the same things or access to equitable coaching, in my opinion.” Compared to the more positive experiences of her teammates, Morgan reflects, “It was definitely a juxtaposition, how their season went and how separate we are even though we’re on the same team just given how different our retellings are.”
After the conclusion of the season, the schools review the official numbers of sports team participation. 85% of players for fall and winter sports came from Millenium, the Whiter and more economically privileged school of the four at John Jay. Despite a lot of recruitment efforts from the athletic program, there were still shortcomings. On the one hand, some students said they didn’t feel welcome at tryouts. On the other, as Michael Boitano (Athletic Director of Law) points out, “I think our kids have a lot more responsibility. We have kids who need to watch their siblings or need to go to work.”
Now that integration has happened, the original advocates for the move have set their sights on improving the sports program. Namely, they have asked principals to consider restorative justice training for coaches and a quota system that will allow more representation of each school on the rosters. Lauren Valme, one of the Jaguars volleyball players, continues to advocate and encourage her peers to join the integrated team. She closes out the series by saying, “I know I cannot change everything, but I know if I look at it like I can change this one thing, then maybe it causes ripple effects and sprout change other places… Not just athletics but through the whole school.”
This series was an excellent exploration of modern segregation and what it really means to undertake anti-racism as a goal. While the series focused on a specific school system and athletic program integration, there are countless similar situations across the country that need to be addressed (and might need a blueprint for doing so). Additionally, I think the producers did a good job showcasing reality. The focus was ultimately on how the players felt and the challenges of navigating good-intentioned changes.
Room for Improvement
I think the series was extremely well done. Now that the sports teams have had an entire year of integration, my only unanswered question is how will the program continue to be nurtured and provide an equitable experience going forward?
Final Thoughts from an Educator
I was blown away by this podcast. I loved the authenticity and getting to hear the students express their frustrations and concerns about decisions being made on their behalf. In my review for episode three, I mentioned that we too often expect our students of color to navigate extremely difficult conversations about their identity.
To go a step further, I think this finale episode highlights the need for follow-through. It’s one thing to upend policy to be more “equitable” and call it a day – it’s another to have a real plan in place. Shifting to more equitable practices goes beyond policy change: it requires resources, support, and a responsive structure that allows further adjustment as lessons are learned throughout the process.
In my own time as a teacher, I worked hard to combat bias and racism on my campus. It was a multi-year process that included staff training, disciplinary policy changes, the creation of resources, and ongoing discussions. Each time we accomplished one task, it felt like three new ones became the natural next step. Change didn’t happen overnight, and only doing one of those things without the others wouldn’t have made the impact we were aiming for.
Additionally, the onus cannot solely rest on our marginalized students to identify these problems and advocate for change. As I have always said, being an ally as a White person isn’t a badge you wear or posting your anti-racist training certificate. Being an ally means standing up with your students or colleagues: supporting their advocacy, empowering them to speak out, and being humble enough to let them take the lead.
The reason I love podcasts is they are a passive way to expand your worldview. I recommend other educators take the time to hear this story. But most importantly, I hope they examine their own school or community and take action. How is the current state of things hurting students, and what are you going to do about it? As Lauren said, maybe one action you take will cause a ripple effect and sprout more change around you.
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