Henrico County VA
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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

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Grab the kids and check out these fun family-friendly events taking place this weekend! Speed over to the Henrico Theatre for the film “Turbo” or watch “Dumbo” under the stars at Clarke-Palmore House Museum. Little ones can meet Thomas the Tank Engine at CMOR-Central or play at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

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