By Susan MacLaury
The 115th US Congress is the most diverse in history with nearly one in five members a racial or ethnic minority. This is a welcome step in the right direction, though its 19% minority membership compares with 38% nationally, making it more like a melting 1-qt sauce pan than an actual pot.
Still, one would hope that increased Congressional diversity would lead to genuine compassion toward all Americans. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post about the failure of our representatives and senators to unite to support the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, this does not seem to be the case. (By the way, Jimmy Kimmel made an impassioned defense of it last night on his show that’s worth watching). Assaults on affordable health care and recent moves to pass a tax bill that ultimately hurts lower and middle income Americans begs the question: To whom do we look to school us on caring for others? To our young, of course.
Enter Pflugerville High School, recently profiled in Readers Digest’s “The Nicest Places in America” series. Participating in a Readers’ Digest readers poll of the best places to live in America, staff and students from the school responded so convincingly that they were named one of the top 10 finalists. Pflugerville is a rural community near Austin, TX (and the site of the filming of the pilot for Friday Night Lights). Its high school is strikingly diverse. Two in 5 students are Hispanic, ¼ are white, nearly ¼ black, and 7% are Asian. And while the median town income is $76,000, 44% of the students at the high school are economically disadvantaged.
Pflugerville isn’t exceptional academically when compared to other Texas high schools. Though it boasts a 98% graduation rate and above average rating in college readiness, its students perform about average on state tests.
But it does seem to be a school in which students look out for one another and one teacher, Dixie Ross, is quoted as saying: “Here niceness seems to be the default mode.” One student, Sahaz Shah, described his first day in the high school after recently immigrating from Bahrain. He didn’t know anyone and a student invited him to sit with him and his friends. He comments: “I was really surprised by how inclusive everyone was. Today that guy is a very good friend.” Several students who aspire to be teachers belong to the Ready-Set-Teach program that pairs them with special needs kids. When one autistic student experienced distress at a track meet earlier this year, all of the students ran to him to give him assistance.
We “shine a light” on kids globally who struggle against difficult odds with resiliency, talent, and hope. In this troubled and troubling age, we look closely at the next generation of voters and the students at Pflugerville give us confidence that it will be a caring one.