Bangor High School. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

A new pilot program at Bangor High School will train staff to incorporate human rights into their teaching and help address the predominantly white school’s history with racism.

The implementation of the Speak Truth to Power pilot program, a partnership between the high school and non-profit Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, follows reports of racism in recent years at the high school, culminating in an independent investigation last year that confirmed those reports.

The new program will be a “strong asset” for the city’s school department as it seeks to confront such issues, a spokesperson for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said in a press release last month. The spokesperson also referred to the students who had come forward with accusations of racism as “courageous.”

The organization will seek to use human rights as a launching-off point to teach about topics including race, gender, food insecurity and disabilities.

Talks about the partnership began within the last year and had been spearheaded by the high school’s director of guidance, Adam Leach, according to Brian Doyle, Bangor High’s interim principal.

It can sometimes be a struggle in Bangor to get students to understand the “bigger picture” of our world, Doyle said. He hopes that the partnership can influence not only social studies courses, but also help broaden perspectives in English and science education.

“Teenagers are naturally primed to embrace their own rights as they begin to understand them,” Doyle said. “We want to help our students develop into resilient, respectful and inquisitive young adults.”      

The program could provide an opportunity for Bangor High to serve as a nationwide model for teaching principles of equality and justice in the classroom amid a national debate over how to properly address issues like race in public schools, Speak Truth to Power program director Karen Robinson said in a BDN op-ed published Wednesday.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights was founded by the family of the former senator and presidential candidate in the aftermath of his 1968 assassination and aims to continue his human rights work. The Kennedy family connection continues to this day, with Robert Kennedy’s daughter Kerry Kennedy serving as president of the organization.

The Ogunquit-based Tramuto Foundation also helped bring the program to Bangor High.