This unit is written for students in grade 12 at the Engineering and Science University Magnet School, which defines itself as a public college preparatory middle and high school, that challenges students to imagine, investigate, and invent while preparing them for demanding STEM programs at the collegiate level. Outside of STEM, ESUMS students have a broad range of interests from politics to art, pop culture to multi-culturalism. Like many young people, ESUMS high school students are in search of the language needed to make sense of their world.
English classes at ESUMS are not tracked; students of mixed ability occupy the same classroom except for those enrolled in AP Language and Composition and, AP Literature, which are available in the junior and senior years respectively. Those students designated as Honors are given additional coursework and more complex performance tasks within the heterogeneous classroom.
The school is racially and ethnically diverse: 44% of students are identified as Black or African American, 47% of students are identified as White, 17% of students are identified as Hispanic and 7% of students are identified as Asian. Within the school, racial and ethnic groups mix in social settings and friendships; although no rigid separation between groups is apparent, racially insensitive statements are present in the school. ESUMS has a significant sex imbalance with 69% of students identified as male and 31% of students identified as female. This sex imbalance has led some female students to complain of feeling marginalized in the classroom. Male students tend to dominate discussion particularly in math and the sciences. The use of ethnographic lens and critical literacy (described below) is, in part, designed to encourage discourse among students about the social inequalities existing within the school walls.