Q&A with BELIEVE | Circle City High School Sophomore Elazia Davison
The Mind Trust believes the perspectives of those most affected by education change should be valued and allowed to shape education innovation and transformation. No one is more affected than students who attend schools we have helped launch and continue to support. In light of that, The Mind Trust’s Students on the Mind series highlights the experiences and viewpoints of high school students across center township.
Elazia Davison, a sophomore at BELIEVE | Circle City, sat down with us for a Q&A to share about why they chose to attend BELIEVE, their advocacy in response to the recent divisive concepts bill, how BELIEVE encourages student agency, and their plans for after high school.
Q: What deciding factors made you choose to attend high school at BELIEVE?
A: Having the dual enrollment opportunity is really what drew me to BELIEVE and is what is keeping me here. Aside from that, I appreciate having teachers who can engage on a personal level because we are a smaller school. BELIEVE has facilitated an environment that I thrive in.
Q: Describe your experience attending dual-enrollment classes at Ivy Tech Community College as a high school sophomore.
A: I’ve been taking dual enrollment classes in-person at Ivy Tech Community College since I started as a freshman. I took English 111 as a freshman, then over the summer I took Fundamentals of Public Speaking online. It was beneficial in that it helped me find more of a voice. I passed the class with a 97% and the things I gained from that class were 1) finding my voice and 2) allowing myself to not be afraid to speak.
First semester this year I took Chemistry and now I’m in Sociology. Teachers at Ivy Tech don’t know me on a personal level the way BELIEVE teachers know me so I have to advocate for how I learn best or adapt to their methods. With my background, I already felt like I had to grow up quickly. So, it’s never been a hard adjustment to have this level of independence. Going to Ivy Tech is honestly a breath of fresh air and has given me a sense of how college will not hold your hand.
Q: What benefits have you experienced from the community BELIEVE has built?
A: I think of the people here as family that I’m going to know for the rest of my life. I’m closest with my homeroom teacher Ms. Rule. We are very similar. Since I started here freshman year, we’ve watched each other grow. If there’s something going on with me outside of school, Ms. Rule is the person I don’t hesitate to tell. She is my foundation for social-emotional development.
Q: What was it like to get involved in BELIEVE’s recent advocacy efforts in relation to House Bill 1134.
A: Seeing how much that legislation could affect my school and the way that I learn, considering my high school is majority Black and Brown, with our culture and the environment we have created, this bill would change nearly everything that takes place in our school. I think politicians who have never set foot in a classroom have no place in talking about what goes on in a classroom. I actually talked to a senator and directly asked him if he’d ever visited a classroom and he said no. I followed up with asking what makes him qualified to speak on behalf of those who are in classrooms every day, including teachers who do more than deal with just the academics. There’s the social-emotional part as well. Wanting to be in the classroom is a struggle for teachers when they are constantly being put under the microscope and being analyzed by people who have never been in classroom and don’t know what’s going on. Filtering what is being taught to the current generation of students should not be something politicians have any control over.
Q: Did you feel heard by the politicians you met with? Were they responsive to your concerns?
A: Our chaperones were recording the interaction to catch the monumental moment of students interacting with legislators. As soon as the phones went away, the senator we were speaking to got very defensive. So many times it felt like his response was, “I see what you’re saying, but you’re wrong.” I went to the statehouse four times and only got to talk to a senator one time.
They have no regard to public opinion. I was also involved in advocating against a bill banning transgender athletes in high school sports. The majority of white male senators walking out of those rooms in their suits were rejoicing about how some of the bills had been passed and it was really diminishing to see how someone can find such joy in knowing they shattered so many lives.
Most of them probably attended segregated schools. Their parents are probably extremely privileged. I don’t think the general audience of white male politicians in Indiana allows for much diversity of opinion. Having that one perspective makes them oblivious to many people who live in our state. There was a desk at the statehouse that showed all the senators in Indiana and there were two Black men in the picture and not very many women, and the women who were there were all white. Ninety-five percent of BELIEVE’s students are people of color and that picture showed us they have no idea at all who we are.
Q: How is BELIEVE structured to encourage student agency?
A: Agency is part of our brand. It is very self-driven. They make it known that if we as students don’t want something for ourselves, they can’t force us to want it. The vibe is, “We can’t support you if you don’t give us something to support.” For instance, my testimony at the statehouse was very personal and I was afraid to put my actual voice into it. A lot of it was sugarcoated at first. I rewrote it four times before it actually said what I wanted to say.
BELIEVE also has an initiative called Freedom Fridays. Last month, the freshman created and presented a wax museum focused on Black history. I presented on Toni Morrison when I participated in the wax museum in my freshman year. As a sophomore, I wrote a poem for Freedom Fridays about what being Black means to me and read it in front of the whole school. As someone who is biracial, showing that perspective to my classmates, not many of whom are biracial, helped me be more confident in that part of my identity.
Q: Who is a key mentor for you at BELIEVE?
A: Ms. Manning is my key motivator. There’s only one of her but she does five things at a time. Getting to watch the impact she has on the student community here is inspiring.
Q: What would you lift up about your Principal Neal as a leader?
A: Ms. Neal comes from a background like mine and has been all around the country. This is not the first high school she’s opened. She is motivated, independent, and emotionally there, yet is also going to hold students accountable in any way she can. She does not make excuses.
Q: What are your hopes and plans for after high school?
A: I know I want to go into social work and do STEM outreach. We need to put more emphasis on students going into STEM, particularly women. I am also a people person and I know I can do a lot with my voice by sharing my personal experiences. That has informed the classes I’m taking, like Fundamentals of Public Speaking and now Sociology. By the time I graduate I will have a general associate’s degree and I’ll go to a university. I have thousands of emails from colleges already. My SAT score was pretty up there, so they don’t stop coming.
Elazia is full of drive and ambition. They are unapologetically themselves in academic, social, and networking spaces. They are able to cultivate and maintain a strong support system of peers, friends, and teachers, while still being a great big sister and daughter. They have the heart to serve those around them and they are already doing that now. Elazia is unique in the fact that they have a crystal clear plan of what they want to achieve and has thirty backup plans just in case things go awry. With hurdles, barriers, obstacles, bad days, and good ones, Elazia always has their game face on ready to tackle whatever is thrown their way. Elazia has fostered incessant internal motivation to be successful and make a name for themselves, no matter what it takes.Ms. Rule, Elazia’s Village Leader
About BELIEVE | Circle City
BELIEVE | Circle City is a public college and career preparatory high school dedicated to the achievement of students in the Indianapolis area. Their mission is to develop students into leaders through a community that fosters agency, autonomy, and acceleration to provide a foundation for future independence and success. The school boasts a 12:1 student to teacher ratio and a 94% parent satisfaction rate. Twenty-six percent of their students participate in dual enrollment courses at Ivy Tech Community College. BELIEVE | Circle City was founded by Kimberly Neal, an Innovation School Fellowship alumna.
About The Mind Trust
The Mind Trust is an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit that works to build a system of schools that gives every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, access to a high-quality education. The Mind Trust does this by building a supportive environment for schools through policy and community engagement, empowering talented, diverse educators to launch new schools, and providing existing schools with the support they need to hire world-class talent and achieve excellence. Since 2006, The Mind Trust has supported the launch of 45 schools, 15 education nonprofit organizations, and has helped place more than 1,750 teachers and school leaders in Indianapolis classrooms.