2008-02-20 Holland Sentinel 'God's fabric is more colorful’

'God's fabric is more colorful’
Holland Christian programs designed to bring more diversity to mostly white schools
Holland Sentinel

Holland Christian Schools has always believed in diversity, said Superintendent Glenn Vos.

Though, it took dwindling enrollment and a parent with a point to make diversity a top priority for the school system.

In September 2006, Jeff Ebihara stood in front of a Holland Christian finance and enrollment committee to ask, in the words of his daughter, then at Rose Park Elementary School, "Why are there no black kids in my school?"

"He didn't pull any punches, and we didn't want him to," Vos said.

Ebihara, who is the Park Township clerk, repeated that presentation recently for the Business Connections Committee luncheon of Holland Area Chamber of Commerce, a division of the chamber designed to encourage minority and women-
owned businesses.

Four out of five newcomers to Ottawa County will be people of color, Ebihara said. Most businesses -- and many schools -- have been eager to tap emerging markets of Vietnamese, Laotian and Hispanic communities, he said.

"From what I was getting in the mail, it looked like other schools were already focusing on these efforts," Ebihara said.

Holland Christian's enrollment has dipped in recent years. Enrollment fell more than 500 students from 2,646 in 2000-2001 to 2,077 in 2007-2008. Tuition without any scholarships for one high school student for one year is about $6,595.

"I think he impressed us by the economic need," Vos said of Ebihara. "We were driven all along by the mission. We knew that God's fabric is more colorful than our school."

Six percent of the students are racial minorities, according to Vos. Asians make up 4 percent of the student body, while blacks, Hispanics and other races each account for less than 1 percent.

In Holland Public Schools, non-Caucasians made up 51 percent of the student body in 2007. Hispanics accounted for 39.4 percent, blacks 6 percent, Asians 5.2 percent and American Indians 0.4 percent. Although Holland Christian draws
students from a large area, the district's schools are in the city of Holland and the southern part of Holland Township.

Since 2006, Holland Christian has started programs to encourage minorities to enroll and feel welcome in the school, but it has yet to see an increase in the number of minority students.

Jim and Metra Delaney of Laketown Township enrolled their sons Spencer and Alex at Holland Christian after moving from California.

"The school has been a very kind and encouraging system to my family," Jim Delaney, who is black. His wife, Metra, is Persian.

"It's obvious that there's work to be done," Delaney said.

Delaney said minorities shouldn't write off Holland Christian as out-of-reach. "It is attainable, through scholarships," he said. "You just have to sit down and study what Holland Christian is all about."

Holland Christian already offered need-based scholarships for minority students, but following Ebihara's prompting, is looking into merit-based scholarships for students as well.

Holland High School teachers and staff will spend a staff development day in 2008 studying diversity. A student group, Calling All Colors, was started and a local pastor led a chapel series about racial reconciliation.

The district was offering tuition breaks to parent who host exchange students, and using technology to connect to classrooms around the globe, Vos said.

"We're trying to connect with other cultures, other communities, other schools," Vos said.

New Initiatives
* Merit-based Minority Scholarships
* Calling all Colors student group
* "Dance of Racial Reconciliation" chapel series
* Diversity training for staff development
* Tuition breaks for Holland Christian families who host exchange students
* Video links to international classrooms

Holland Christian High School junior Andre Buist asks a question during a Calling All Colors student group meeting Friday. Below, Holland Christian High School English and Bible study teacher Art Tuls conducts class.