Henrico County VA

Schools reflect student diversity

Look in a mirror. You'll see your reflection. Then look out a window. You will see part of the world.

Jonathan Zur, president of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC) often uses a mirror-window activity to help teach Henrico County educators how to be more inclusive across race, gender and class.

The activity helps educators analyze how students see themselves, how students see the world, and how those two worlds intersect in their schools.

Some students see their images reflected in history books in school, on bulletin boards and in student leadership roles. Others see themselves reflected only in token ways. In the latter cases, VCIC trainers show teachers ways to address the disparities.

"We've seen some schools be able to be effective through using that [mirror-window] framework and broader workshops ... to change some of the policies and practices throughout their buildings," Zur said.

VCIC and Henrico County schools have worked together for about eight years.The training is part of the district's efforts to examine the culture at each school and to ensure that all students feel welcome and included, said Chris Corallo, the district's executive director of organizational development, quality and innovation.

Making each student feel valued regardless of race or ethnic background has become more important as the racial demographics of Henrico County schools have changed in the last few years.

In the 2004-2005 school year, 53.2 percent of the district's student population was white and 46.7 percent was non-white, according to statistics provided by the district. In the 2011-2012 school year, 45 percent are white and 55 percent are non-white, with the largest increases in growth being among Asian and Hispanic students.

As minority student populations increase, school officials have developed programs that focus on equity across race, class, and ability status.

For instance, middle schools participate in VCIC's annual Prejudice Awareness Summit. Teams of eight students from schools spend a day together and then develop plans about how to share the message of inclusion and respect with their peers.

Linda Thompson, project director for the district's Learning Leaders grant, works closely with VCIC on the summit and other projects.

"We have greatly appreciated our work with the [VCIC] and believe that their voices in training have been instrumental in helping us … have honest conversations about diversity and cultural differences in our schools," Thompson said.

School leaders also develop their own activities to create an inclusive culture. For instance last month, Ward Elementary School held International Day for its approximately 500 students and their parents. Principal David Burgess said the event, which featured culture and food from a variety of countries, was to celebrate the schools's diverse population.

However, as the student population changes in Henrico County, officials are tracking an achievement gap.

White students and Asian students perform at higher levels on most academic measures than do African American students, Hispanic students, and students with disabilities, according to the Henrico County school's website.

Similar gaps are occurring in other school districts in Virginia and elsewhere.

Zur said the training that VCIC has done with Henrico educators can be helpful as the district works to close the gap.

"If students feel a sense of belonging in their school, they are more likely to show up, they are more likely to do their homework, they are more likely to raise their hands, they are more likely to care about the quality of their work," Zur said. "So this is not just a touchy-feely, squishy area of work. This is about a school's success."

Corallo said that although the district has been working to close the achievement gap, more work is needed.

The community helped the district identify what Corallo called "barriers to progress." Earlier this month, the district met with community representatives to discuss those barriers and identify priorities. Those priorities will be used to help the district develop the next steps for continuing to close the gap.

Meanwhile, Zur and the VCIC will keep working with Henrico teachers to help them to better connect with and to understand their increasingly diverse students and their parents.

Zur said he expects ongoing conversations about inclusion in area schools but he anticipates the focus of those conversations to change over time.

"As our immigrant population grows in Central Virginia that adds an opportunity for some new conversation and new learning," he said. "The links between race and class and ability grouping are something our schools really need to look at… so there are emergent conversations that [are needed and] that will look different five, ten, fifteen years from now."

This story is part of the Virginia Tapestry series, produced by In Your Shoes Media.
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Brews and bites done right

Urban Tavern’s big, bold themes impress

The Urban Tavern opened in August, replacing the former Shackelford’s space at 10498 Ridgefield Parkway in Short Pump. Because of local and longtime devotion to Shackleford’s, Urban Tavern has some big shoes to fill.

Without any background information, I headed to the restaurant for dinner on a Wednesday night, two months after its opening.

On a perfect fall evening, four out of eight outdoor tables were taken, giving the impression that the restaurant was busier than it was. On the inside, a couple tables were taken, and a few folks were seated at the bar. > Read more.

A terrible, horrible movie. . . that’s actually pretty good

‘Alexander’ provides uncomplicated family fun
It’s not surprising in the least that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day doesn’t much resemble the book it’s based upon.

Judith Viorst’s 1972 picture book isn’t exactly overflowing with movie-worthy material. Boy has bad day. Boy is informed that everyone has bad days sometimes. Then, the back cover.

In the film, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad-ness is blown up to more extreme size. Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) has a bum day every day, while the rest of his family (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey) exist in a constant bubble of perfection and cheery optimism – to the point that the family is so wrapped up in their own success that Alexander’s being ignored.

So on the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander makes a wish: just once, he’d like his family to see things from his perspective; to experience the crushing disappointment of one of those no good, very bad days. Once he has blown out the candle on his pre-birthday ice cream sundae, his family’s fate is sealed: one full day of crippling disasters for all of them. > Read more.

Deep Run HS plans fall musical

Tickets for Deep Run High School’s fall musical production – Aida – will go on sale Nov. 3. The Elton John-Tim Rice pop opera, inspired by Verdi’s classic opera, tells the story of enslaved Nubian princess Aida, who falls for captain of the guard Radames, who is betrothed to the Egyptian princess.

Performances will be held Nov. 13-15 at 7 p.m. each day. > Read more.

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