Celebrating Diversity and Empowering Students is the Theme of Latest FCPS Superintendent Community Roundtable

A panel of seniors at James Monroe High School spoke at the latest Fredericksburg City Public Schools Superintendent Community Roundtable on March 27, 2024.

by ADELE UPHAUS
MANAGING EDITOR AND CORRESPONDENT

Of the seven James Monroe High School seniors who participated in a panel discussion at Wednesday’s Superintendent Community Roundtable, two work full-time in addition to attending school full-time.

Two have been in the United States for five years or less and entered Fredericksburg City Public Schools speaking little or no English, and at least one will be a first generation high school graduate when she accepts her diploma this May.

Just two of the seven have attended city schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The theme of this most recent roundtable, which gathered together school division staff, students and parents and representatives from the Fredericksburg business and nonprofit community, was diversity, inclusion, and student empowerment.

In the past 30 years, city schools have gone from being a place where English and Spanish were the only two languages spoken to hosting students who speak 36 different languages, Lori Bridi, chief academic officer, told attendees.

For example, not only are there hundreds of students who speak Dari or Pashto, the two major languages of Afghanistan, but there are two different types of Pashto spoken – northern and southern Pashto. Students speak Gujarati, Urdu, and Konkani, three of the languages of India; Amhaic, a language of Ethiopia; Ga, a language of Ghana; and Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa and Namibia.

“There are 900 English language learners in the division,” Bridi said. “That’s a whole school of English learners.”

The division is not only extraordinarily diverse in terms of country of origin, but also in terms of socio-economic background and ability. More than half – 57% – are economically disadvantaged, and 14% have special needs.

The student panelists, even those who have grown up in Fredericksburg, said that the diversity and inclusivity of city schools helped them be successful. And for those who came to the city not speaking English, it was often the one-on-one relationships they were able to form with their English language teachers that helped them succeed.

Virginia’s state-administered assessments consider how students in a number of different categories perform. Because of the diversity in city schools, Bridi said, “we are judged by the state on 91 data points.”

“Most of our neighboring school divisions don’t have as many,” she said.

That’s why, Bridi said, the division looks at other ways to measure and encourage student success, in addition to the required assessments – and why superintendent Marci Catlett encourages everyone in the division to prioritize “people over programs.”

The school division’s “successful learning profile” includes five components – fostering critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, communication skills, creative thinking skills, and citizenship skills.

The school division is asking for the community’s help in empowering its students to succeed. Participants gathered in small groups to brainstorm ideas and offer suggestions. Some of these included helping establish extracurricular opportunities for students, especially at the elementary level, so that all students have the chance to find something they’re passionate about doing; advocating for higher pay and a better quality of life for teachers and school staff so they feel supported and able to forge connections with students; and partnering to provide career opportunities to students while they are in school, so they don’t need to both work and attend school full-time.

Managing Editor and Correspondent