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School officials highlight diversity efforts

May 16, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

In the name of diversity, the Washington County Board of Education is trying to minimize academic disparities and cultural barriers, schools officials said Monday.

Maryland is projected to be, within 15 years, a "majority minority" state, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Patricia Abernethy said. That means most residents will belong to what are considered minority groups.

Abernethy said the district is working to improve minority students' test scores and to better understand cultural differences. In one case, after going through a diversity training program, a school official worked with a problematic student in a different - and successful - way, she said.

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Abernethy and two other board officials spoke Monday at a meeting of Building Community, which is examining prejudice, discrimination, diversity and other social issues in Hagerstown and Washington County.

Building Community is broken into committees looking at media coverage, government and community relations, communitywide awareness, employment issues and workforce development, and tolerance in schools.

The group has met quietly since September 2005, drawing criticism from two Hagerstown City Council members who said they support the group in concept, but questioned its secrecy and whether it should get city tax dollars.

This month, Dan Kennedy, a group founder, publicly invited anyone who wants to take part. That includes the media, which was purposely excluded while the group gained momentum, he said.

Four city council members attended Monday's meeting, but did not discuss city business.

The group will meet next June 12 at 7 p.m. at the Grand Venice Inn on Dual Highway in Hagerstown, the site of Monday's meeting.

Michael Markoe, the board's director of student services, said students learn only if they have both hope and a good relationship with an adult.

Colleen Dealey of Hagerstown, who was sitting with the media coverage committee, urged school officials to let students have a say in what goes on around them.

"They will take up for one another," she said.

Asked how Building Community members can support the school system, Markoe said, "We really need mentors from the community."

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