Whitman’s LASJ program to be expanded for county-wide enrollment in the 2024-2025 school year

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Montgomery County Police have received calls partly due to the realistic appearance of some toy guns. Some manufacturers design fake guns to closely resemble real handguns, while others produce brightly colored versions that look completely harmless.

By Romina Mofrad

Whitman’s Leadership Academy for Social Justice (LASJ) program will expand for county-wide enrollment in the 2024-25 school year. 

LASJ, which debuted unique to Whitman in the 2020-2021 school year, is an application-based, cross-curricular program that allows students to become active and socially responsible leaders. Incoming MCPS ninth graders from around the county will have the opportunity to apply to the four-year program at Whitman. 

The Whitman program staff, in partnership with MCPS officials, plan to implement a lottery to select up to 30 applicants outside of Whitman’s district for admission. There will be no roster cap on students already districted to Whitman. All accepted LASJ students will attend Whitman full-time. LASJ Lead Teacher Sheryl Freedman is excited to use the program to teach about the different facets of social justice.

“Our mission is to create classrooms where we can discuss topics related to social justice and ways to explore peoples’ identities,” Freedman said.

There are over a dozen regional programs throughout MCPS high schools, including programs focusing on medicine, journalism and engineering. Each initiative provides students with unique opportunities to explore possible career pathways as young adults and gain early experience in various fields. Freedman is optimistic that an eager and hardworking group of students will join the expanded program.

“We hope that.. the issues that we address in social justice will attract people who are passionate about making change and that could include a more diverse group of students,” Freedman said.

The LASJ program first branched off of “OneWhitman” — a monthly, school-wide period in which students and staff hold conversations on race, gender and equity, among other sensitive subjects — and was founded in the fall of 2020 by many of the same Whitman students and staff leaders as part of the school’s direct response to racism on campus. The purpose of the LASJ initiative is to build trust between students and allow for conversations around serious topics, according to LASJ members.

Sophomore Zalina Bell is interested in the opportunity to learn with students who don’t attend Whitman. 

“I feel like we don’t get to see much outside of the school and it’s kind of a bubble,” Bell said. “I think adding people from different schools will allow for new perspectives.”

A dedicated cohort of students picked from other schools around the county will complete LASJ classes, though these students may enroll in other courses at Whitman as well. Course options at Whitman include LGBTQ+, African American and Women’s Studies classes, in addition to this year’s new Environmental Justice course in which students learn about the inequalities associated with the environment that are caused by racial, gender and class disparities.

Sophomore Sophia Antonioli is excited that the new admissions process will open the LASJ program to students in other high schools in the county.

“I think that having students from other schools is a good way to broaden Whitman’s diversity,” said Antonioli. “LASJ is something unique to Whitman that can be shared.”