The Whitehall City School District is among the most diverse in central Ohio -- and district leaders say it's the most inclusive, too.

While February is Black History Month, it's just one vehicle teachers at Whitehall-Yearling High School can use to illustrate the district's policy of inclusiveness.

The month began with six teachers observing World Hijab Day on Feb. 1 by wearing the traditional Muslim veil in the classroom; it continues in a marketing class that is focusing on black inventors and entrepreneurs.

Principal Paul Smathers said such inclusiveness is a natural byproduct of the district's diversity.

"We don't (need) to do anything purposeful. (Inclusiveness) is part of the culture here. It is what we do every day," Smathers said.

Whitehall-Yearling senior Zainab Abdul-Hakeem, 18, wears a hijab to school each day.

She said while questions about it are not uncommon, teachers and students are accepting and she feels at ease.

"People ask me what it is ... or why do you wear that, (and) I tell them it is to hide my beauty," she said.

Sara Levitt was among the six teachers at Whitehall-Yearling who wore a hijab Feb. 1, a day meant to educate others about the tradition of the hijab worn by many Muslim women while in public.

"A lot of (students) asked about it (and) it was a great opportunity to teach (other students) in a casual way about it," said Levitt, who teaches English as a second language.

Kevin Diaz, a senior, said he experiences and witnesses inclusion every day in the hallways and classrooms at Whitehall-Yearling.

"When we learn someone is from (another country), it's like, 'Wow, that is so cool, what's it like there?' " said Diaz, 17, whose family originated from the Dominican Republic.

Jazmyn Ward, a 17-year-old senior with familial roots in Guyana, spoke about the same level of respect and acceptance among the student body.

"Everyone is beautiful in their own way (and) I think it's something we all appreciate," Ward said.

The diversity of the district can be seen not only in classrooms -- with 32 countries represented and 27 languages spoken, said the district's director of communications and marketing, Ty Debevoise -- but also in extracurricular activities and special projects.

In December, Whitehall-Yearling celebrated its first Latino Night.

This month, Lisa Schwieterman, a business and marketing teacher, is using Black History Month to focus on black entrepreneurs.

Schwieterman asked the class to brainstorm famous black entrepreneurs and said she was "a little disappointed" at the initial results that tilted toward athletes (LeBron James) and entertainers (Jay Z).

She asked the class to reconsider whether black entrepreneurs existed only in the realm of athletics and entertainment.

The students responded with a much more diverse list of entrepreneurs, such as Philadelphian James Forten, a 19th-century sailmaker and abolitionist.

In future months, students will focus similarly on entrepreneurs of other races and creeds, Schwieterman said.

Such programs extend to Rosemore Middle School and the district's three elementary schools, Etna Road, Beechwood and Kae Avenue.

Kelly Golsby, principal at Beechwood, helped organize a new event in November called Culture Connect.

During five days of exercises and events, "students learned about the diverse culture in our district," using social media to explore various cultures, Golsby said.

Superintendent Brian Hamler said the district "embraces (its) diverse population" and is proud of such celebrations as Latino Night, Cultural Connect and World Hijab Day.

But, he added, "Inclusion and acceptance (are) not just events but rather a way of life in our community."

Hamler said such practices are among the reasons why the district's student enrollment has grown 24 percent in the past five years -- the second-fasting-growing school district in Ohio in terms of percentage.

"The greatest thing about our district is our diversity and that our students feel welcomed," Smathers said.

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