County school officials hope that two new partnerships will help promote an appreciation for the school system's growing Asian population.
The school system was scheduled Friday to formalize a partnership with Counselors Helping (South) Asians/Indians, also known as CHAI. The school system formalized a partnership with the Chinese Language School of Columbia on June 7 during the school's closing ceremony, which was held at Howard High School.
"We have folks from all over the world in our school system," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "We want to welcome folks from these diverse cultures into the school system. A good way is to build these partnerships so that we have a formal way of including these cultures and communities. "
The partnership with CHAI will result in members of the organization providing workshops for school system counselors so that they have a better sense of the needs of South Asian students and families. The organization will also find interpreters to assist the school system. In addition, the organization will also provide speakers for international student leadership programs and parent education events.
Under the partnership with the language school, teachers from the language school and the school system will work together to "promote diversity, cultural proficiency and the preservation of heritage language skills in Howard County," according to the school system.
The language school also promises to communicate school system information with Chinese-speaking families while sharing the families' concerns with the school system. There are also plans to increase Chinese language programs in the school system and teach school system staff and students about Chinese culture.
"With the growing international diversity of the county, we are finding that we want to have sensitivity to the needs of the community - not only from the student services perspective but also the curriculum," said Mary Schiller, manager of the Partnerships Office for the school system.
The school system's Asian population has increased the most of all minority groups at the elementary level. Increases in the past five years: African-American (from 18 percent to 20 percent), Asian (12 percent to 17 percent) and Hispanic (4 percent to 6 percent). Meanwhile, the percentage of white students has fallen from 64 percent to 51 percent.
The system's foreign-born population has also increased, with students from 80 countries speaking more than 70 languages, school officials say. Officials attribute the growth to the school system's reputation, which has grown through Web sites, newspaper articles and word of mouth.
The school system has also made efforts to encourage cross-cultural exchanges with Asian countries.
Cousin has made trips to China and Korea in the past four years. As a result, he set up several sister-school programs in China that have resulted in student exchanges - including groups of Chinese students visiting Long Reach High School the past three years.