As part of Culture Lessons, John Rudolph speaks with Manchester Central principal John Rist about diversity, education and "Central Pride."
Teacher: Your first homework assigment is to start thinking about (fade)â€¦
John Rudolph: On the first day of school this year, there is a sudden interruption in a class for immigrant and refugee students who are learning English.
John Rist: Good morning students!
John Rist is the formidable, barrel-chested principal of Central High School. He walks up and down the rows of desks, stopping at each and asking these foreign students his favorite question.
Rist: Where you from?
Student 1: Greece.
Rist: Manchester. Where you from?
Student 2: Afghanistan.
Rist: Manchester. Where you from:
Student 2: Taiwan, uh, Manchester.
Rudolph: Rist has overseen this school of some 2200 students for over six years. During that time, Central has worked with more and more immigrant teenagers and refugees from the world's trouble spots â€“ from Afghanistan to Congo.
And while many people in Manchester define the school in terms of its diverse student body, Rist does not.
Rist: Our tradition of excellence is very defining. Weâ€™re a school. Our academic performance, I will match the college placements of our students against any school. I will match our A.P. scores, for advance placement testing, of our very motivate children against anybody. Athletically weâ€™ve always done pretty well. And the term â€˜Central pride,â€™ when I first came here, and I tell this story quite often, I thought it was just a slogan. But people do enjoy being part of Central. The Central community is a real thing. And the pride in the school, and pride of students who have attended here is real.
Rudolph: What I hear is that twenty years ago this was the school in Manchester, this was the pride of Manchester. And this is mostly from people who either went here or had their kids going here in an earlier era. And they say, well today, theyâ€™re not sure. Thereâ€™s an uncertainty about where Central stands in the community. Do you hear that, and how do you respond to that?
Rist: Well, I would certainly respond and say that theyâ€™re misinformed if they think our academic performance has decreased. Yes, we do have a higher dropout rate than possibly we had in past years. But with our socio-economic makeup, our demographic makeup, the cultural makeup that we have here I think weâ€™re doing a great job. Part of the problem on our dropout rate is, some of the students from around the world who come here, they have not received education in their own language, in their own country. A lot of these students, the economic pressure on them requires that once theyâ€™ve got the language - the conversational skills, some writing skills - they move on. They go get a job. So it runs the gamut. We do a great job preparing kids to go on to post-secondary, competitive post-secondary situations. And I think we prepare other students to do a good job as productive citizens. So, we know who we are, we know who our kids are.
Rudolph: Youâ€™re almost describing two different schools. And that kind of mirrors things that I hear talked about by students and teachers - is that, yes, this is a very diverse place, but that the members of those different groups that make up the diversity donâ€™t have much interaction with one-another. Do you feel that way?
Rist: We have a lot of harmony here, and Iâ€™m very pleased with that. Yes, I would certainly like to see more integration from the international students, and to the other different ancillary programs we have here. And I always talk about the soccer program. If the international students went out for our soccer teams and participated fully in soccer, no one would ever beat us in boys or girls soccer. But we do pretty well. When we have a pep rally the kids all have a great time, and when we go to a dance thereâ€™s a lot of interaction between the groups. Certainly it could be better. Youâ€™re still gonna have bigots and people with prejudices. But overall itâ€™s not too bad. You know there is the old saying, â€˜birds of a feather flock together.â€™ And we know we like to be with people of a similar bend (sic), and thatâ€™s human nature too. Overall though, thereâ€™s not a whole lot of animosity between the groups, and itâ€™s very stimulating. Today I spent the last two hours walking around. I just love it.
Rudolph: John Rist thank you very much.
Rist: Alright, thank you.