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Carroll County Public Schools celebrates ‘courageous conversations’ at Culture Expo

The bus loop was filled with food trucks and the courtyard rang with steel pan music at Winters Mill High School on Wednesday morning. Inside the building, Carroll County Public Schools educators were trying to start “courageous conversations” around diversity and inclusion.

Educators, administrators, parents, students and community members were invited to a day full of food, music dance and discussion at the third annual Culture Expo.

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There were more than 45 options for cultural chats, including titles such as “Disabling Fear, Enabling Dialogue: Let’s Talk Disability!” “Applying an Equity Lens to Parent Involvement,” and “Creating Pathways for English Learners (ELs).” Speakers ranged from administrators from within CCPS, to local college professors, to experts in their fields from across Maryland.

The day started with an address given by Supervisor of Equity and Community Outreach Judith Jones and Superintendent of Schools Steve Lockard.

“I’m a Carroll County Public Schools snob,” Jones told the gathered audience. “Everywhere I go, I talk about how fantastic we are.”

Lockard reminded the crowd that "it’s OK to be uncomfortable."

“That’s the time when learning and growth are most likely to occur,” he said.

CCPS also named its Education that is Multicultural (ETM) teacher and administrator of the year. Taneytown Elementary media specialist Kathryn Berling and Winters Mill Principal Michael Brown each received a standing ovation from the audience when their names were announced.

The Culture Expo has has grown in numbers each year. CCPS had a goal to increase attendance by 10% over last year, when about 428 participants registered. Even before the event Wednesday, Jones said there were a little over 630 participants registered with more walk-ins expected.

A group of student volunteers from all seven high schools in the county served as marshals to help people find their way around the school and keep everything running smoothly. The students got service learning hours and Jones said another goal was “to introduce them to leadership and give them a sense of inclusion and inclusiveness within their own school system.”

The Rev. Alfred Reeves, director of youth mentoring group boys 2 MEN, gave the keynote, speaking about making change in one’s own community that can have wider and wider effects to empower young people.

'Why can’t a fire start in Carroll County?" he asked.

He told a story about when a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed in his community by another boy, just 15. The members of boys 2 MEN reached out in their neighborhood and mulched and planted around homes that looked run down. Since then, the community has formed a clean-up task force, he said.

“It starts with a small thing. Don’t tell me what you can’t do. Tell me what you can do,” Reeves said.

Sentimiento Dance Company, whose mission is to raise awareness of Latino culture in the Baltimore area, performed next, showing off rapidfire rumba and Colombian salsa, and leading the audience to learn the basics of Bachata.

In between the cultural chats that followed, Expo guests could browse more than 60 vendors representing businesses as well as the many organizations that provide services to Carroll County residents.

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Said Jones: “That’s what I find so exciting, that it really is the community-type effort that I wanted it to be. Not just for the school system. But I really love looking around and seeing our business partners and seeing our local businesses come and be a part.”

She hopes the Culture Expo will continue to be a time for people to celebrate Carroll before the school year begins.

“It’s getting the annual feel," she said, "where people know this is happening.”

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