As much showing as telling, nearly 50 Bulloch County Schools students appear in a new six-minute video describing what “diversity” in their schools and community means to them.
With classes starting today for about 10,000 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade in the 15 schools, the video is slated to be released this week on the district’s website, www.bulloch.k12.ga.us. Bulloch County Schools Assistant Human Resources Director Allissa Baxter and Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Hayley Greene led in planning the video, and Statesboro-based Stouthouse Media was contracted to produce it.
“That’s going to be exciting,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said last week. “It really tells our story as to who we are as a community and our focus on diversity from the eyes of our students, and I think it really brings to perspective how we are diverse but we are one. We are one people, one community, one school district, but we’re diverse.”
He referred to it as a way to “celebrate that unity through diversity and diversity through unity,” as the school system moves forward.
Part of the plan
A diversity initiative has been part of the Bulloch County Schools’ strategic plan for the past three years. Some of the efforts and reported progress have been controversial, especially when interpreted in terms of race relations in a community where older people remember segregation.
Increasing the pool of minority applicants for teaching and administrative jobs was one goal of the initiative, given shape by a Diversity Committee formed of school district employees and residents in 2015.
The school system’s 2018–19 annual report counts the addition of Baxter in the new role of assistant H.R. director last December as another step in the “cultural diversity” initiative. With the additional staff member, Human Resources Director Phillip Tremble proposed to increase recruitment efforts.
During the hiring season from February through July, Tremble and Baxter represented the district in eight job fairs at universities and colleges in Georgia, including some historically black institutions. The number of job fairs attended is also in the Bulloch County Schools annual report, which was published in the July-August edition of Statesboro Magazine and is also available on the school system website.
As another part of the effort, the school system hosted its first employee recruitment fair, Feb. 24. Almost 250 potential job applicants attended, meeting school principals and other hiring managers.
Meanwhile, Baxter, in charge of cultural diversity training for the school system, is revamping the materials. That will be the primary use of the video, Greene said. Baxter had suggested, and Greene agreed, that the understanding of diversity needed to be expanded beyond black and white.
“We’ve got to get people to expand what their view of cultural diversity is, that it’s more than just color,” Greene said. “And it was interesting, without any prompting by us — we asked the students two questions and let them talk — our students already knew that.”
To involve students, the schools launched a Cultural Diversity Contest in April. Children from elementary to high school submitted more than 400 entries, including poems, essays, short stories, artworks and videos.
At each school a committee of teachers and staff members was asked to choose at least two entries to represent the school. From these 30 or so finalist entries, a committee of central office staff members chose the winners. Parents were sent letters giving them an opportunity to opt their children out of videotaped interviews, but none did, Greene said.
Because some entries involved entire classes, the number of students appearing in the video exceeds the number of winning entries, and not all winning entries necessarily made the final cut.
Students were asked to respond to two questions. “What makes you different from your classmates?” and “What does cultural diversity mean to you?” was how Greene phrased them this week.
In defining diversity, students mentioned sexuality, gender equality and religion, as well as race, “the whole gamut,” Greene said.
“It’s really heartwarming to hear how they think they’re different,” she said. “They don’t classify themselves by skin color the way adults tend to do sometimes.”
About 100 students were interviewed. With the contest entries, some groups of students responded literally with song and dance, and brief selections have been incorporated in the video, Greene said.
Video “filming” was conducted at a few schools in May, with some students being bused to the locations. Then, with help from Stouthouse Media, Greene and Baxter pored over more than an hour of interview footage to select six minutes. The school system is paying Stouthouse $2,500 for its help with the six-minute video plus a briefer corporate image video.
The price included more than 15 hours of filming and travel between four filming locations, as well as the editing, Greene reported.
The newspaper reporter had not seen the video as of this writing.
Within the school system, an earlier version was shown to “focus groups” including the superintendent’s executive team; principals, assistant principals and other administrators during their Camp Bulloch summer training and small groupings of Board of Education members. The system’s more than 150 newly hired employees also had a chance to see it during their orientation day.
These groups gave feedback used to “tweak” the video for the final version slated for release this week, Greene said.
With more than 1,750 personnel including full-time, part-time, substitute and seasonal employees, the school system is Bulloch County’s second-largest employer. Currently about 1,484 of those are full-time employees with benefits.
The diversity of the student body derives from that of the county’s largest employer, Georgia Southern University, Greene suggests.
“We have 24 different nationalities of children that speak 18 different languages,” she said. “We’re very much a mirror of Georgia Southern in how culturally diverse our school system is.”
But many of the families with a different home language also speak English. About 3 percent of Bulloch County Schools students qualify for language services, the annual report notes.
For parents and students, many of the school system’s forms are available in the county’s second most commonly spoken language, Spanish.
But the district also contracts with LanguageLine Solutions, which provides online interpreters in virtually any language when parents show up at a school or call, Greene said. A placard posted in school offices is designed to help parents identify their language to staff members.