A decade ago, Howard County had four schools in which white students were a minority, and two with majority African-American enrollments. Now, there are 27 schools with white minorities, and just one with a majority black student body.
What's going on?
"Twenty years ago, when we talked about diversity, we were talking about a white/African-American comparison," said county school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "Today we have students from over 80 different nations."
While white enrollment dipped between 1997 and 2007, black, Asian and Hispanic enrollments increased sharply, especially outside Columbia, where racial diversity had arrived earlier.
"Ten years ago, other than the traditional black enclaves in the county, most of the African-American population was concentrated in Columbia and Ellicott City," Cousin said. "It's more dispersed than it was five or 10 years ago. It's good news."
Higher incomes and the county's fast growth are partly responsible, the superintendent and others said.
"As people get more familiar with the county and have resources that permit them to live in any part of the county, you're going to find that happening," said Natalie Woodson, education chairwoman for the Maryland conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Howard County branch. Also, "you have a school system determined to embrace and enhance cultural diversity."
The degree of change is especially evident in the 39 county elementary schools and the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade Cradlerock School. This suggests more diversity is coming to the 18 middle schools and 12 high schools.
The number of students in the system grew 23 percent over the decade - to 49,519 from 40,275 - according to figures in the school system's annual enrollment-by-race report. At the same time, the number of white students dropped one-half of 1 percent, or by 1,462 students. Proportionately, the white majority dropped from 73 percent to 56.4 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of African-Americans increased 51 percent, or 3,485 children, changing the percentage of black students to 20.9 from 17.
The biggest changes were among Asian and Hispanic students.
Asians more than doubled, to 7,384, while Hispanics more than tripled, to 2,646. Together, they represent 20.2 percent of the county's total enrollment, nearly equaling African-Americans. In addition, this year's report shows 1,097 students, or 2.2 percent of those enrolled, as not reporting a specific racial identification.
Hispanic families are coming to Howard County for the same reason that others have come, said Murray Simon, who founded Conexiones, a Hispanic advocacy group, in 1989.
"I think it's part of a national trend, but also a feeling that one person tells another that this is a good place to live," Simon said.
Many Hispanics cope with Howard's high cost of living by working multiple jobs, he said.
Asians, many from Korea, "are moving in because of the school system," said Sue Song, executive director of the Korean American Association of Howard County.
"I think the reason we are more clustered than any of the ethnic groups is that we are a somewhat homogeneous population," she said. "We have a tendency to cling together."
More Korean immigrants start small businesses, too, many of which are in the Ellicott City area.
The largest concentration of Asian students is in Ellicott City.
Hollifield Station Elementary, which serves an area of Ellicott City popular with Korean-Americans, has seen the number of Asian students jump to 234 from 52 over the decade, reaching 38.2 percent of the total. Meanwhile, white enrollment dropped from 416 to 250, as overall enrollment also dropped. The new Veterans Elementary near Long Gate Shopping Center opened this year with 265 Asian students, one-third of the enrollment.
Redistricting, additions to buildings and construction - four elementary, three middle and two high schools were constructed during the period - have redistributed students while reducing crowding.
At the demographic extremes are Lisbon Elementary in far western Howard County and Laurel Woods Elementary in North Laurel, off U.S. 1.
Lisbon has a smaller total enrollment than a decade ago and is still the county's least diverse school with a 86.3 percent white enrollment. But that proportion is down from 98.6 percent, because there are now 12 black children instead of one, and 33 Asians and Hispanics instead of six.
At Laurel Woods, total enrollment also is down, but 18 percent of the students are white this year compared with 57.1 percent 10 years ago - a decline of 285. students. Black enrollment rose from 30.7 percent to 48.5 percent of the total with 53 more students, but the big increase was among Hispanics, who jumped from 34 students then to 101 now - moving from 5 percent to 19 percent of the total.
In Columbia, by comparison, the report shows little change. The number of white students at Running Brook Elementary in Wilde Lake in 1997 was 104 and remains exactly that - a 26.4 percent minority - in this year's reports. Black enrollment at Running Brook is up by seven students over the decade, with Hispanic enrollment unchanged. Asians increased to 31 from 16.
Big changes also have come to some middle schools.
Murray Hill Middle, next to Gorman Crossing Elementary near Emerson, the new North Laurel General Growth development, has 147 more students in total, but lost 40.5 percent of white students. Whites dropped from nearly two-thirds of enrollment to less than one-third, while blacks increased from 28.6 to 46.6 percent.
Black and Asian enrollments more than doubled over the decade, while the number of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 80.
At Oakland Mills Middle in Columbia, total enrollment is down slightly, but white enrollment dropped 92 students, from 58.6 percent to 41 percent. Black students increased from 32 percent to 42 percent - a 43-student increase. The number of Asian students dropped from 31 to 18, while the number of Hispanics more than tripled, from 16 to 59.