"I think our thrust here is we realize that we are a microcosmos of society and we have all of these cultures folding in here and part of our job is to help celebrate the diversity of our country in all of its cultural aspects, and it goes beyond culture, it's [also] race and religion and we have to take that into account," Assistant Principal Bob Butler said. "We do want to celebrate diversity, we do want to celebrate different cultures because the old saying is 'we're the great melting pot' and we take all of this [history] from everybody."
On Fridays, world history teachers are taking about 10 minutes during the first part of class to discuss with students prominent black figures who have made a significant impact on the world during the 20th century.
"I have [outlined] in my classroom an 8-foot by 8-foot jail cell similar to what [Nelson Mandela] would have lived under in Robben Island," said social studies teacher Kelly Hunter. "My central argument for the kids is going to be regarding should Nelson Mandela be considered as one of the Georgia Performance Standards criteria that we teach in class, because he currently is not. Apartheid is, but he himself is not."
Born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918, Mandela spent 27 years in prison after being charged with trying to overthrow the government with violence. During his incarceration, Mandela became widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and a symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength.
He later served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
"We're going to use [this month] as a way to highlight some other figures that we feel are important, and Mandela is extremely important in the 20th century history, probably the most important [black historical figure] in that respect," teacher Mike Pfiester said, adding there is little discussion of black contributions in the GPS curriculum for world history.
Student Erin Hill agreed with Pfiester.
"We're definitely learning more [black history] this month because we don't really talk about African-Americans in world history that much," Hill said. "What we've learned so far has mainly been European and Asian [historical contributions]."
Brian McCoury said he wants students in his class to recognize that many issues regarding race relations are not unique to American history.
"How many of you guys have ever heard of the word 'apartheid?'" McCoury asked the room.
One student nervously raised a hand halfway into the air, but did not provide a vocal response.
"Does anybody know what it means?" he asked to no reply. "What about segregation, everybody has heard that word before, right?"
Timid echoes of "yes" rumbled from students.
"That was called 'apartheid' in South Africa, and it was a policy followed all the way to the mid [1990s]," McCoury said. "And the overwhelming population of South Africa could not really advocate while a [racial] minority controlled their country. They controlled elections, they controlled everything."
Tyler Rowell said he found it interesting Mandela was imprisoned before becoming president and that he wasn't aware of some of the racial tension that has existed throughout the world.
"Of course [Mandela] was in prison for [nearly 30 years] and some of the acts that our teachers talked about I didn't realize, like the segregation act Europe made after they invaded Africa," Rowell said, in reference to apartheid.
Both Hill and Rowell said they feel, for the most part, positive about the views teens hold on race in 2012.
"I think some kids still have a problem [with race] because we're in the south, but I think it has gotten a lot better over the years," Hill said.