by Kym Byrnes
When Judith Jones was hired as the supervisor of equity and community outreach for Carroll County public schools in 2016, she knew she had a lot of work to do. She felt like the whole country was divisive and divided, and she said her goal was to bring people in this particular community together, to celebrate what we have in common, and acknowledge and embrace our differences.
“I wanted to bring people together, wanted to celebrate what we share in this county — rolling hills and farming and an expanding diversity,” Jones said. “When we celebrate cultural diversity, it is celebrating all of us because we all have culture. It’s not about excluding anyone; really it’s about including everyone.”
One of the ways Jones is encouraging those who live and work in Carroll County to learn and understand more about their neighbors is with the third annual CCPS Culture Expo on Aug. 21 at Winters Mill High School from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The event, which brought together about 425 attendees last year, is open to all, and Jones is hoping to see a healthy cross section of the community at the event this year.
The Expo will include activities like Salsa and African dance classes; a kid’s corner with magic shows, storytelling, arts and crafts, and games all focused on the topic of diversity for ages 5-12; and “culture chats” — Ted Talk-esque conversations on a range of topics.
“We have built this annual event that allows our community to experience some great cultural entertainment, amazing food trucks, and more importantly, we get a chance to enrich ourselves by listening in on dynamic culture chats where we learn more about each other and have conversations about difficult issues,” Jones said.
Jones grew up and attended public school in Baltimore City. She began working as a social studies teacher in Baltimore in the early 1990s, and in 2006 joined Carroll County public schools as an assistant principal, first at Century High School and later at Westminster High School. In 2016 she was named supervisor of equity and community outreach; the position was recently renamed the equity and inclusion officer.
Jones acknowledges that Carroll County isn’t known for its diversity. In fact, with 25,290 students enrolled in Carroll County public schools in 2018, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) reports that the number of African-American students has remained consistent at around 970 students for the last five years. The number of Hispanic students has steadily increased from around 1,100 to just over 1,600 over the last five years, according to MSDE.
But CCPS encourages people to think beyond nationality and language when considering diversity. As the schools website notes, a diverse population has different backgrounds, experiences, knowledge and understanding. Diversity includes age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, geographic location, socio-economic status and religious beliefs, among other things.
Jones said that part of her job is to help ensure that every student has access to every educational opportunity.
“There are a lot of things that we struggle with as a society as a whole. We struggle with change in diversity, with things that are not what we’re used to, and as a school system what we’ve done is created opportunities to prepare ourselves for this change,” Jones said. “I’ll be moving us forward to make sure we look at everything through an equitable lens — whether it’s transportation or construction or technology or curriculum.”
Jones said that one recent initiative was to capture the voice of minority students in an effort to understand their experiences.
“We spoke to different minority students about their experiences and we were able to get that feedback to help drive our equity policy,” Jones said, adding that “it also helps administrators and educators to have the pulse of what is happening in their school and how they can meet the needs of all our students.”
Through her work with the school system, Jones hopes to help change the perception of Carroll County.
“I do want to tear down some of those perceptions that are out there about us. What I want to be said about our county is that we’re growing in diversity and we’re embracing it — we’re celebrating it,” Jones said. “We’re doing some awesome and wonderful things in our little county.”
“It’s just the best thing when you can see people coming together and talking and learning about each other and creating authentic relationships around differences. It’s amazing,” Jones said. “Anyone who wants to be a part of this, come to the table. We welcome it.”
To learn more about the Culture Expo, visit www.carrollk12.org.