SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Our school systems are where the future begins.  So how do local schools deal with diversity in Springfield? 
KOLR10’s Matt Lupoli reports the district’s message is one of inclusion through engagement.

“There is a lack of diversity, however it is increasing on a number of different levels and I find that particularly exciting,” Missouri State Institutional Equity and Compliance director Wes Pratt says.

It’s an old adage, but it shines with new truth: Children are our future. For a glimpse at Springfield’s tomorrow, we can look at its schools today.

“There are statistical trends showing our students of color are slightly increasing year after year. We are almost at a percent increasing students of color since last year,” Spring field Public Schools Manager of Diversity and inclusion Lawrence Anderson said.

“We are at about 20 percent but nationally, things tell you that will continue to change. When I was looking and applied for the job it was at around 16 percent and that was only about three years ago,” Anderson said.

While the percentage of students who are not white continues to grow, data still shows that number is smaller than in similar cities.

“Even in Des Moines or Tulsa, their student demographics are much larger — probably more than fifty percent are students of color,” Anderson said.

Locally, Anderson said diversity is emerging more rapidly in the lower grade levels.

“Probably more so north to the center of Springfield tends to be more diverse, but I think that’s going to continue to change,” Anderson said.

“As they go through life that will prepare them for what’s out there. Unless they’re going to be sheltered their whole lives and not be a part of anything. There are benefits of being connected with someone who may have different experiences and not be like you. You have that richness of understanding and a different perspective of trying to walk in someone else’s shoes,” Anderson said.

Education advocates in and outside the district say reaching out to students of color is an investment in their futures and the community on the whole.

“A lot of research has shown there is achievement gaps between students who are African-American and Hispanic compared to their counterparts. So how do you close that gap to where those students are learning every bit as well as the others?”

“Parents have to be the role models. We have to engage in our public school system. Our schools need to understand diversity and the value of diversity,” Pratt said.

“You have to be strategic and budget conscious in supporting those students and their families and truly engaging them in the education process. Because what’s good for the district, what’s truly good for the district, is good for the community,” Mark Dixon, founder of the Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center said.

“The opening of the community school at Robberson has said, we have to take a more wrap-around approach to education. It doesn’t just start here when one bell rings and then end over here at the end of the school day when that other bell rings,” Dixon said.

Anderson said partnerships off-campus help foster community engagement for students of color. Especially through programs with local universities that give students exposure to higher education.

“It’s so ideal it’s not even funny. Springfield does a great job of collaborating with other entities if they’re thinking about it a little bit.”

The district has teamed up with the NAACP and Missouri State University for a college conference that students of color can attend to get information on learning opportunities and even financial aid.

A scholars program at Drury exposes diverse SPS students to a wide range of possible career paths during a summer program.

“It’s pretty much (about) getting them in a place where they feel like college is something I can do. Even though I live in Springfield and I know Missouri State, but I could actually be a student here and be on this campus and not just be on the outside looking in,” Anderson said.

The district is also partnering with MSU and other universities to adopt a national program, Brother-to-Brother, which will help students aspire to achieve success with help from a mentor.