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Increasing Diversity in Rockbridge Area School Systems

By Georgia Wright, Jamie Spanfeller, and Lillian Patrick.

Home to two universities, Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, Lexington is bustling with life and learning. According to Virginia demographics, the area is 82.1% White, 6.4% African American, and 4.5% Hispanic.

The Rockbridge area continues to make progress regarding inclusivity efforts. In the last 10 years, the community has organized an annual MLK parade along with events celebrating the LGBTQ community, Latinx-heritage month, and more. As a result, efforts to increase inclusion are being made slowly but surely.

However, one area that is currently at a standstill is increasing diversity amongst educators in the Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge county school districts. There are currently two educators of color in Rockbridge County, one within the Lexington city schools (though holding a subordinate position) and zero in Buena Vista.

Diversity in education is essential. According to the Drexel School of Education, “fostering inclusion and awareness around multicultural education and taking a culturally responsive approach to teaching benefits all students. Not only does creating greater multicultural awareness and inclusion help students with different backgrounds and needs succeed, but it encourages acceptance and helps prepare students to thrive in an exponentially diverse world.”

Parents within the community who have children of color are aware of the problem, as it surely affects their children’s confidence levels and feelings of belonging: “Growing up, in my primary years in Lexington, I did not have any African-American teachers within the school system,” reflected Lexington native Ellison Duval. “There was no one in the school system that I was aware of, that reflected my upbringing.”

The Irma Thompson Educators of Color Initiative strives to increase diversity among educators in the area. The grant, named after a late prominent educator of color in Buena Vista, offers $1,000-$3,000 to any newly hired teacher of color at the Rockbridge, Buena Vista, or Lexington School Systems. The money would assist teachers with moving expenses, housing, or other job-related expenditures.

However, the grant has never been used or even been advertised, suggesting a lack of awareness of the resource for possible change.

“We need all types of different people and representation… Representation means understanding when someone becomes an adult and being prepared for worldly experiences,” said Mallory Douglas, a Lexington native and mother to two children of color.

Bringing in educators of color prepares the children of our community for the world outside the Rockbridge area. School is much more than a campus, and learning extends past mathematics lessons. Providing children with exposure to diversity at a young age better prepares them for the world outside of the classroom. Diversity and inclusion are necessary characteristics of our modern day, and our children should be brought up aware of that fact.

“I worry so much about how we are raising our children in this community without having people of color in any of our classrooms,” said Vice Mayor of Lexington, Marylin Alexander. “It has a negative effect on the black students and the white students.”

The current Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge school districts do not accurately represent modern America. Through proper awareness of the issue at hand, its long-term effects, and resources like the Irma Thompson fund, the community is at a pivotal moment. It has the opportunity to transform the local school systems into diverse, inclusive spaces that’ll adequately prepare children for the greater world.

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