A viral high school tour underscores the haves and have-nots in America's schools
When Carlotta Berry viewed two TikTok videos of students giving a tour of their affluent high school less than 45 minutes away from her home in Avon, Indiana, she was speechless.
The video, posted earlier this month and which has since gone viral, shows Carmel High School students showing off their sprawling school’s vast amenities — which include a recording studio, a 10,000-seat stadium, a café and a planetarium.
But when the video kept appearing on her time line, Berry, who originally planned on keeping her thoughts to herself, decided to post a response, pointing out the lack of diversity of the students in the video and the inequality of resources for neighboring schools in the region, like Avon High School, which her daughter attends.
“I think that was the most appalling part to me. … At what point do you say, ‘Let me stop throwing money at this high school and consider the other schools in the area,” Berry told NBC News. “If you’ve got a natatorium and three cafeterias, can we get all the schools within a 20-mile radius of the school to have one cafeteria? One gym?”
About 17% of students are Black, and 62% are white at Avon, which is in a suburb west of Indianapolis. At Carmel High School, which is in a suburb north of Indianapolis, more than 70% of students who attend the school are white and 3.6% are Black. Meanwhile, the median household income in Avon is $92,684 compared with Carmel, where the average is $119,772, according to data from the U.S. Census.
Berry is one of 8.4 million viewers of the two TikTok videos posted to the school’s account and produced by a student club. While some were fascinated with the school’s array of facilities, others questioned why they were even built, when other schools in the region lack resources and are at a disadvantage.
Why does one school prosper while the other languishes?
One example Berry cites is Indianapolis Public Schools, where her husband works. “Their schools don’t look anything like” Carmel’s, she said. She also said that schools in Avon and Indianapolis have had problems with pipes bursting, which prevented students from attending school “for a while” because they “got to get the school cleaned up.”
These basic disparities are the aftereffects of a legacy of systemic racism and racial segregation in schools, according to Jamel Donnor, a professor of education at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
“For so long, many school districts fought integration, fought desegregation, and so a lot of resources were dedicated to that.” he said. “A lot of resources were actually used to circumvent school desegregation as well. And then you also have to throw in that mix white flight, which also played a role in all those things.”
For generations, predominantly Black and Latino schools across the country have been significantly underfunded, compared with majority-white schools. Students of color are more likely to attend schools with larger classroom sizes, less qualified teachers and lower-quality curriculum offerings.
Swanky campuses aside, 60% of Carmel students will have taken at least one Advanced Placement course, according to U.S. News and World Report. At Indianapolis’s Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, located less than 30 minutes away from Carmel, Black students make up more than 55% of the student population; only 27% of students took at least one AP exam.
The average household income in Indianapolis is $54,321, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which is less than half that of Carmel. Affluent public schools are often fueled by property taxes in wealthy, and typically majority-white neighborhoods, he added. Homes in these communities, he said, are also appraised at a higher rate, which yields more taxes that go toward funding for schools, which can create a number of benefits — including offering more competitive salaries for teachers.
Carmel High School’s abundance of resources is also reflected in the home values of the families who live in Hamilton County, one of the wealthiest counties in the state. The average home is valued at $494,302 in Carmel, according to Zillow, while the average home is valued at $214,433 in Indianapolis and at $319,504 in Avon.
Like Berry, Ernest Crim III also posted a TikTok video sharing his thoughts about Carmel High School after it kept appearing on his time line. Crim, who has more than 350,000 followers on TikTok and posts videos about Black history, asked viewers to comment “1” if their school looked like Carmel High, and comment “2” if it didn’t.
The results, he found, were not surprising. Most Black respondents said their school “didn’t look like this, and if it did, it was majority white.”
One Black commenter said that although her high school had a pool, it also had “peeling ceilings” and was “underfunded.” Another said that her high school in Jersey City, New Jersey, had no air-conditioning, and that students were expected to “take standardized tests while sweltering away.”
Crim, who taught high school history for 12 years and lives in Joliet, Illinois, experienced firsthand the inequalities in education. Growing up, he was bused to a predominantly white elementary school and later attended a predominantly Black high school, which he said was in need of renovations and repairs. He also said he had friends who would lie about their addresses in order to attend better schools.
“We couldn’t even play our football games at our school because the field was in such horrid condition,” he said. “My basketball gym … even though we were one of the top teams in the city — in the state — our gym could only probably seat maybe 100 people, possibly, only on the one side it was so small. Our baseball field was in decrepit condition too.”
Growing up, many kids were made to believe that their parents didn’t work hard enough, which resulted in them getting placed in these disadvantaged schools, Crim said. But it actually stems from a system “that created these differences” and that there “is nothing these kids did to deserve that school to look that way.”
Plenty of organizations and Black leaders have worked to eliminate these disparities in education. Last year, the NAACP Indianapolis announced its Indiana Black Academic Excellence Plan, which aims to improve education for Black students in grades K-12 across the state and provides 15 strategies to close educational opportunity gaps. The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus also announced in January it would give priority to bills focused on closing achievement gaps for Black and Latino college students.
Both Crim and Berry said they want to see the resources available at Carmel High School expanded to other schools. As Donnor put it, helping underfunded schools does not automatically mean taking something away from schools like Carmel, or that “they’re getting something that they didn’t earn or deserve.”
For Crim, this would mean making schools places where Black students can feel safe and where their “creativity can be explored,” he said. “I think that can change an entire generation.”
Berry emphasized the importance of diversity in education because it benefits everyone, she said.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the kids at that [Carmel] high school,” Berry said. “What I’m saying is, give every high school in the area 50% of that.” So, if they’re going to have that, then that means every high school should have at a minimum a dining hall, a gym — the resources for those kids to be successful as well.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com