As the river rises, it changes, too

Since Riverside opened in 1991, everything from the stuents to the teachers to the building itself has experienced many different changes.

One of the most visible changes is that the student body has become more racially and ethnically diverse. The white student population has been steadily decreasing. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), in 2007 Riverside’s student population was 39 percent white, but in 2019 the student population is only 24 percent white. 

Also, in 2007 the Latino population made up 12 percent of Riverside, but now it makes up 33 percent. The African American student population was 46 percent in 2007 and is 37 percent currently.

“We’re certainly more diverse than we used to be,” said veteran teacher Jeffery Harris, who’s been at Riverside since the school opened in 1991. 

“The demographics have definitely changed,” said science teacher Mika Twietmeyer, who joined RHS in 2007, “it reflects how Durham has changed.” 

Riverside’s socioeconomics – students and families’ income, occupations and education levels –  has changed as well.  

“There are more students living in poverty then there were when I started teaching at Riverside,” said Twietmeyer.

Charter schools have also changed Riverside’s student body. 

“We didn’t use to have these charter schools that were pulling kids away from being in their high school,” said English teacher Mary Foster. Public schools that are not part of DPS, such as Voyager Academy and Research Triangle High School, opened in Durham in the early 2000’s.

In North Carolina, 50 percent of traditional public school students come from low-income families, while charter schools only have about 33 percent. Low-income families are families that earn less than double the federal poverty line. Charter schools differ from public schools because many receive private funding in addition to public dollars.

Other teachers believe the availability of technology in recent years is one of greatest improvements at Riverside. When the school first opened, educational technology was much more limited than it is today. 

For instance, Smart Boards and digital projectors weren’t fully integrated in the classrooms yet, and a large percentage of students didn’t have computer or internet at home. Now, 90 percent of students nationwide have access to mobile technology, according to  http://www.mastersofartinteaching.net. 

“It’s made a lot of things easier,” said Spanish teacher Anuja Munshi, who’s taught at Riverside since 2000. “You can actually do so much more since you have it right at your fingertips.” 

However, along with the advancement of technology came cell phones. 

“When I first started teaching, an overhead machine was considered technology,” said social studies teacher David Norman, who has been here since 1994. “Now I have a fully integrated Google classroom.” 

“It was really different back then in terms of kids now with their cell phones,” said Munshi. “Obviously the kids still have friends and interact socially now, but it was a little bit different then because there was none of that and I think that was a more community feel to the school. The trends of the social networking have really changed the school a lot.”

When Munshi first came to Riverside, she remembered the school as lively, different, and [it had] a lot more of a community feeling. 

“[It’s] still a lively place,” she said. “I don’t feel like it’s as close-knit, though, as it used to be, probably because kids are involved in so many different things and are from all over Durham. Back when I started, students were living more locally.” 

More students live out of district now due to the growth of the engineering program, which accepts students from all over Durham. There were only 100 students taking engineering classes in 2007, compared to 480 students in 2019.

The attendance policy is another noticeable change since Riverside opened in 1991.  

“When I first started, if you had 10 or more unexcused absences you automatically failed that course unless you went to an appeal process,” said Twietmeyer. “Now there are unlimited absences.”

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