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Opinion: Inner-city students may solve diversity dilemma

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I’ve been thinking about the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s challenge to increase diversity in our area.

The problem as I understand it is that there is a desire to increase the minority population and the diversity of the Springfield area.

In the discussions that I have heard during the last year, the emphasis has been on attracting minority professionals to the Springfield area and retaining them once they are here. I think the issue has been clearly defined, but I have not heard any solutions to the problem other than having support groups and engaging these professionals in social activities. These are all fine if we are going to continue to attract minorities in the same old way.

To solve a problem, I believe you must first identify what causes the problem. I heard someone in one of these discussions say that the minorities that they were exposed to did not connect well to the Springfield area and therefore did not sink roots in and stay.

I submit that this is too late in a person’s life to have a major change such as relocating to a completely unfamiliar environment. The success rate of retaining people in this area is going to be less than desirable, akin to teaching old dogs new tricks.

What causes the apprehension of a 35-year-old minority from an inner-city environment (my solution focuses on minorities in the big cities of America) for relocating to Springfield? The common fear of the unknown – new neighborhoods, people and cultures – is the main culprit.

A few weeks ago, I saw on the nightly news a story about 1,700 inner-city families that were standing in the cold outside a charter school with lottery tickets in their hands.

They were not hoping to win $1 million. They were hoping to win one of only 300 available openings in this charter school for their children.

This proves that most parents will do whatever they can to improve the chances for their children to have a better life then they had.

This desire is the foundation of my solution. I believe that given an opportunity to send their children to a better educational situation, such as Springfield Public Schools, these parents would jump at the opportunity.

It makes sense to me to develop a program in which inner-city minority students can visit Springfield schools much like foreign exchange students come here to be exposed to the American lifestyle.

The Springfield system would make contact with an inner-city school system looking for participants. The eligible students would be entering the 11th grade with a B average or above. Other requirements can be added, but for brevity I am only outlining the skeleton of my concept.

Selected students would be placed with local families for one year, with the host families responsible for all expenses of the student and for encouraging the student to take part in school activities. They would take them to Missouri State and Drury campuses and sporting events, museums, Silver Dollar City, area lakes and other outings to expose their student to the myriad activities in the Ozarks.

At the end of their first year, the student would have a choice: either go back to their original high schools to graduate with their classes or stay and finish their senior years in Springfield.
The universities would step in and offer scholarships to participating students who finished with a B average or better. Schools already offer minority scholarships.

Having attended school in the Springfield area and developed friendships, it would be more likely that they would accept the scholarships.

Then with college exposing them to another four years of the southwest Missouri way of life, I submit that the prospects of them starting careers in our area would be greatly increased.

The chamber’s role could be in lining up internships while they are attending college or jobs with local companies when they graduate.

I suspect that like others who have moved here from different parts of the world, some of these new Springfieldians would probably encourage their families to relocate as well. They would spread the word about the southwest Missouri lifestyle to their old neighbors, and the program would grow and be limited only by the number of host families available.

This could become a national model for all suburban schools to adopt an inner-city school and partner in the education of these students.

King Coltrin is a professional engineer and principal of Great River Associates. He can be reached at king@greatriv.com.
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