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Minority Recruitment Hot Topic At Private Schools Conference

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Washington

Private schools need to act more vigorously to attract and retain minority students, Philadelphia admissions officers told their colleagues recently.

Admissions personnel from several private schools shared their ideas about minority recruitment and retention at the National Association of Independent Schools' annual meeting here March 13-16.

While the gathering included sessions on topics as diverse as charter schools and school safety, the discussions on affirmative action and minority recruitment were the most energetic.

According to educators at the conference, more minority students are turning away from existing private schools in favor of African-American academies and other schools that focus on cultural and ethnic diversity.

Admissions teams from independent schools in Philadelphia said schools should create more cultural interaction and work with parents and children together to help the students feel more comfortable.

"Schools have to talk with students about their differences, whether it's the color of skin or different hair," said Sheila Royal-Moses of Philadelphia's School Readiness Project, a one-year pilot program focusing on preschool children's readiness for school. "It may mean having a minority in the admissions office so parents feel comfortable, too."

Several of the roughly 3,000 educators at the conference spoke about what their schools were doing to help minority students make a comfortable transition from public to private schools. Suggestions included clubs for minority students, support groups for students and their families, and tuition-aid programs.

Ronald Baron, the director of the Dallas-based Center for Sports Law and Management, led a session on sports liability at independent schools. Given the litigiousness of American society, Mr. Baron said, "it is important for independent schools to make absolutely sure that all students involved in sports be aware of the risk for injury, even in the safest athletic programs.

"Your policies for sports should be proactive rather than reactive," Mr. Baron told a group of headmasters, teachers, and coaches. He added that there were three simple precautions that many schools, public and private, could use as a first step to ensuring students' safety:

  • Schools should make sure they have the proper coaches for a sport.
  • Schools should install ground fault interrupters on all electrical outlets to prevent electrocutions.
  • Schools should pay more attention to an athlete's physical exam, and coaches should make sure the exams are thorough.

In one of the conference's most well-attended sessions, Julianne Malveaux, an economist, nationally syndicated columnist, and radio-talk-show host, touched on the meeting's theme: "Redefining Leadership: Foundations for the Future." She led a discussion about leadership and affirmative action, asking those at the meeting to understand affirmative action as being integral to the national purpose.

"Affirmative action isn't about quotas," Ms. Malveaux said. "It's about opening doors that before were shut."

Sharing anecdotes of her upbringing, Ms. Malveaux, who is African-American, voiced displeasure with the state of people of color in the United States.

"We always used to sing 'We shall overcome,"' Ms. Malveaux said. "Now I just want to ask them, 'When?"'

A speech by writer, editor, and activist Gloria Steinem drew the conference's largest audience. The consulting editor for Ms. magazine, Ms. Steinem is currently working on a program for girls to help increase their self-esteem.

In her program, "Talks for Girls," Ms. Steinem says girls are asked what they would like to learn. "Girls have taught me that they aren't learning citizenship or about voting," Ms. Steinem said. "Are classrooms having an impact on voting?"

She also said it is the responsibility of teachers to teach diversity to students. "We treat kids as people who have to be tamed or broken," she said. "Children should know that being different is OK."

Ms. Steinem told the audience that it was unfair not to prepare young boys to be parents. "We don't prepare young men to parent; that is always the girls' responsibility."

--Cheryl Gamble

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