The Importance of Diversity in Our City Schools
By Ann Monday
Superintendent, City of Fairfax Schools
I have two granddaughters, ages 4 and 6. I am fortunate that they live in McLean, Virginia, so that I can see them regularly. Being with them keeps me young — and makes me so aware of how the world is changing.
For example, among their very favorite foods are sushi and hummus. When I was their age, and even when their mother was a little girl, these foods were unknown in most American homes. Now, like many other international cuisines, these previously exotic dishes are commonplace.
My granddaughters' classrooms are reflective of the growing diversity in our region, as the children in them represent nearly every ethnic group. The girls ride bicycles with neighborhood children from Saudi Arabia and go to the beach with a family of Asian descent.
They have dark-skinned dolls that they like to play with, and when they play dress-up they comfortably make believe that they are characters who look nothing like themselves. They expect that their world will be filled with people who are different from them — yet, they rarely seem to notice or care about these differences.
Our City schools have become increasingly diverse.
Demographics have shifted so that there is no longer a racial majority in the student population. Our students are learning about different cultures and customs in the most natural way possible — through their daily work and play.
I am not among those who worry that this diversity is not good for our schools. While recognizing that educating children with diverse background is challenging, the benefits for all children can be great.
In fact, even as the student body has become more diverse at Fairfax High School, every measure of achievement — SOL scores, SAT scores, AP enrollments, and test results — have improved.
This success reflects the commitment in all of our schools to high expectations for all students. Our principals and teachers and counselors know that every child, from pre-school to high school, brings special gifts to the classroom, so they nurture the potential of each student. And they create school communities that value understanding and acceptance of differences among people.
In this issue of Close-Up
We consider student diversity from a number of perspectives. You'll read in the following pages about the steps being taken to close the achievement gap among different racial groups, and you'll learn how our schools are working closely with parents from diverse backgrounds to embrace their cultures and support their needs.
On page 2, you'll find an article by this year's student School Board member Victoria Tran, a senior at Fairfax High School, who tells us what it was like to grow up in a multicultural community. You'll also read about multiculturalism from a parent's point of view in an article by Eileen Kugler, a Fairfax mom who is the author of "Debunking the Middle-Class Myth."
I know that as my granddaughters continue their journeys through school and life, they will be well-served by their diverse schools and community.
They will be prepared to work side-by-side with people who have different backgrounds and viewpoints. I expect that they will continue to find that it is these differences, like the wonderful flavors and textures of their favorite ethnic foods, that make their lives fuller, richer, and more interesting.
Next: Page 2: Diversity from a student's point of view