WFTX — Enrollment data from the state shows that on average our schools are less diverse than they were decades ago. Every year our schools are getting less and less diverse, meaning our children are losing out on opportunities to be exposed to different people and cultures.
If you've been anywhere near a TV or a phone over the last year then you've probably noticed that the volume on conversation about diversity seems higher than ever, especially when it comes to things like policing, leadership, and healthcare. But what about Schools? When you think of your local schools, do you think about diversity?
"This isn't unique to Florida, this is a national trend."
The folks at the Leroy Collins Institute in Tallahassee do.
In 2017, they took a look at the level of diversity in our state schools and found that following desegregation efforts in the 60s 70s and 80s diversity in Florida schools changed.
Leaders at the Institute say there are a few reasons for that.
"The federal government and the federal courts anyway are no longer really pushing local governments to make sure there isn't resegregation or there isn't this going back to the 1960s."
And they say without that federal pressure, school choice, and ultimately the racial make-up has largely been left up to parents and school districts.
"One of the issues is you're dealing with parents and parents want to make sure that they send their kids to the best schools and sometimes the best schools, what we have pretty much evidenced is the best schools are not the ones that are these heavily segregated schools."
The institute categorizes heavily segregated schools as those where at least 90 percent of the student population is minority.
And here's why they say you should care about the level of diversity in local schools, even if you don't have kids.
"There have been a lot of sociological studies that show that kids that are in diverse classrooms really make better citizens."
"They're more empathetic because they understand that there are people who have different backgrounds and look differently from what they do."
Fox 4 wanted to see how a few of our local districts stacked up, and here's what we found.
"we're like a microcosm of our community."
In Charlotte County, there were no schools that met the "heavily segregated" mark, but we did find a few schools where more than 85 percent of students identify as "white."
School leadership says those schools reflect the community's demographics.
"It's a predominantly white community. It's like, I think 84 percent white, 6 percent Black and 8 percent Hispanic and 2-3 percent others."
The district says they're also very aware of the need to expose their kids to different cultures and they do so through what they call "culturally responsive" teaching.
"The first thing you've got to do in bringing that in is you've got to involve the students. You've got to know about them, you've got to learn about them, you've [also] got to involve to parents, the same thing, you do that by inviting them in for conferencing for programs."
Collier County schools didn't respond to our request for an interview in time for broadcast. We found that the district had two schools that fit the category for "heavily segregated," with more than 90 percent of students identifying as "Hispanic."
According to census.gov, Immokalee's population is more than 70 percent Hispanic. And on top of that, each year the area also welcomes an influx of mostly Hispanic migrant families which likely also contributes to those numbers.
"Diversity is the mix, inclusion is making sure the mix works."
And then there's Lee County schools.
In Southwest Florida's largest school district, there weren't any schools that met the "heavily segregated mark" either, but a few came close. Five schools currently have a mostly "Hispanic" student body.
Leaders for the district say part of that can be attributed to recent growth in the Hispanic population in Lee County, but it's definitely something they're monitoring.
"There's been a decent amount of studies on critical mass and whether there's a certain percentage of students that are needed to access either the benefits of diversity or the harmful effects of diversity, I don't think we're that numerical range in terms of what we're trying to assess."
School leaders add that by using a lottery system for school enrollment and offering a variety of programs at the high school level they've seen a wider spread of diversity among students at each school.
And they also work to promote diversity through the curriculum.
"Infusing a lot of our own history and some of the major events in our own local history that center on diversity, that center on desegregation and the impact of that."
And by providing faculty and staff with diversity training.
"So that's understanding how do you overcome some of your preconceived notions about individuals and people and circumstances to be able to reach them? And understand them? And appreciate their story, appreciate their narrative and appreciate their full potential?"
When it comes to improving on levels of diversity within schools we've found that school districts, to a degree, are at the mercy of the demographics they serve.
And it's why school leaders tell us that to create true change other groups must join in on the conversation.
"These are larger conversations that have to happen on a city, local and regional level to make sure that we have all of our voices at the table and people have access and opportunity to all of the richness our community provides."
And the Leroy Collins Institute agrees.
"I think there's a tendency to say 'Oh it's the school district," but really it's the city, it's the county, it's the state."