Diversity Within Waterford High School

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Getty Images/iStockphoto

Taylor Houggy, Reporter

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When it comes to high diversity within an academic environment, Waterford is not a school that often comes to mind. From the outside, we appear to be a school made up of dominantly white, middle-class suburban teenagers who enjoy our fair share of sports, music, and hanging out with friends.

However, when one looks carefully at the student body, it is clear to see that we are a melting pot of kids from countless different backgrounds. We pride ourselves in housing a perfect mix of artists and athletes, and including almost every gender, sexuality, and ethnicity within our Lancer Nation. Walk through the halls of Waterford High School, and you will see kids sporting dyed hair, tattoos, braids, piercings, hijabs, with everything ranging from punk to top 40 to show tunes blaring through their earphones. They play sports, advocate for change, dance freely, laugh loudly, and refuse to let the stereotype of suburbia define them.

In order to get a complete understanding of the students who make up our school, Lancer Nation has delved into the minds of those who make us so diverse. From teachers and students who come from all across the globe to teenagers who carry history in their blood, let’s look at the diversity within Waterford High School.

Descendants of the Russian Czar

While you would never guess that they have royalty in their blood, siblings junior Sam and sophomore Sophia Amodeo pride themselves in their Russian heritage, as their great-grandfather was the famous Alexander Kazem-Bek, who worked as a double agent for the Patriarch of Russia.

He was the Head of the Russian Department in the political group the White Russians, which focused on bringing back the monarchy. Throughout World War II, he worked with the Nazis and the French as a double agent, sending German secrets back to the Russians. The Amodeos are also descendants of the Russian princess Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, meaning their great-cousins were Russian royalty.

Obviously, both siblings hold great pride in their powerful Russian bloodline, with Sophia stating, “I am very proud to be Russian. I feel like it’s a really cool thing to say that you are, and be able to celebrate different holidays and be a little different from everybody else.”

However, being different can bring about stereotypes and misunderstandings from peers, which both Amodeos say they have experienced.

“I have been called a ‘commie’ before. It’s okay, sometimes it’s as a joke, but when you think about it, my great-grandfather was actually captured by communists and brought back to Russia after moving to America, so communism has always been a rough topic in my family, because they took one of our family members away,” said Sophia.

From Albania to America

People recognize paraprofessional Manjola Barolli by her striking curls, beaming smile, and signature accent. Many students assume from her rolling r’s and Spanish-like inflection that she is from Venezuela or Colombia, but are shocked to discover she actually comes from the European nation of Albania. Barolli spent her childhood in her home country and even worked there as a teacher for a year, before immigrating to America after winning a lottery designed to allow well-educated teachers to come to the United States in hopes of a better life.

At first, according to Barolli, “It was hard to leave, but it was even more hard to get used to life here. I was lucky to have the support of my aunts and uncles in New Jersey, and I lived with them for a while before moving here.”

Upon arrival, she was shocked at the easy-going nature of the country in comparison to her native Albania, especially in the school systems.

“In Albania, you had to work so hard to earn what you had. In school, we would write notes for hours until you couldn’t feel your fingers, but here, I see the kids taking advantage of how easy they have it. Where I came from, we learned the values of life through our hardships,” states Barolli.

Over the years, Manjola has adjusted very well to life in America and loves the life she is living. But not everything has been easy to adjust to.

“Sometimes I felt judged by the way I speak, but it doesn’t matter what they think. In learning a new language, you always have to break the ice and speak as much as possible if you want to learn it. They say, when you get to the point where you’re dreaming in English, then you have made it, and I can say that I have made it,” she said with a laugh.

Barolli is incredibly proud of where she has come from and said that she would gladly go back, given the opportunities that America has given her. However, it is her desire for a good life for her daughter as well as a love for the people she has met here that just won’t allow her to leave this country she’s learned to call home.

Escaping the Haiti Earthquake

Senior Edith Anger was only 11 when a catastrophic earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 ripped through the island nation of Haiti where she lived. Amidst the chaos, her school was destroyed and her home country was in ruin. Anger’s parents saw no other option but to send her to America, where she would live with her uncle and aunt. Many people find it impossible to imagine such an extreme lifestyle shift at such a young age.

“It was hard to deal with at first, but I got used to it. I had a lot of help from my cousin Kayla,” said Anger.

Looking back, Anger acknowledges the luxuries that were provided for her in America that she could never have received in Haiti.

“It [Haiti] was very different from here. We had to wear uniforms, and the teachers were meaner. We also had no transportation, many kids walked to school, and we still had to pay for public school. I’m happy for the opportunity to get a better education here, but I do miss Haiti.”

Despite living in America for almost eight years, Anger said she still bears a strong connection to where she came from.

Lancer Nation bears the colors of countless flags from around the world. It is part of what brings us together as one student body, knowing that we are all different but can still find unity in our uniqueness.

From the perspective of the outsider, it is hard to initially see the diversity that we hold so proudly within our school. But once you truly begin to know the students and their backgrounds that make Lancer Nation so diverse, you can really see that Waterford High is so much more than our major demographic. There are those who have been in our school system their whole life, whose unique ancestry brings to light the diversity even within the European demographic in our school. There are also those who have chosen to leave everything behind and blindly join our Nation in hopes of finding a better life.

Instead of simply finding a better school, better education, better accommodations, they found a community willing to open their arms and welcome them as a part of the family. This, in essence, is what it means to be a Lancer and a member of the Waterford community.

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