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Stafford school has role in Anderson Cooper’s Emmy

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After television journalist Anderson Cooper snagged an Emmy this month, a Stafford County principal wondered if the school would get a mini version for the trophy case.

After all, students at Shirley Heim Middle School played an important part in the award-winning series “AC360 Special Report: Kids on Race, The Hidden Picture.”

The school was one of six chosen throughout the country to participate in studies to see how children view race.

Producers chose Stafford County because they were looking for a school that represented a cross section of America, said Valerie Cottongim, spokeswoman for the school division.

“And Stafford really is a crossroad of America,” she said.

Principal Mary Grace McGraw said the school has a diverse student body, with many races and nationalities. Of Shirley Heim’s 910 students, 202 are black and 369 are white.

“It’s kind of like a melting pot, which is nice and representative of what the world is like,” McGraw said.

As part of the television series research, a psychologist came to Shirley Heim to interview 30 middle school students; half were black, and half were white.

The psychologist presented pictures of vague scenarios that included a white child and a black child. For example, one picture showed a child on the floor with his books around him and another child standing nearby.

Researchers showed children the pictures where the child on the floor was white and the child standing was black, then showed pictures that reversed the races of the children. They asked open-ended questions about the situations to gauge if a child was more likely to view the scenario negatively based on the racial makeup of the kids in the picture.

They then asked questions about racism and interracial friendships and dating.

After the study, CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien came to Shirley Heim to interview some of the students. Then, some students and their parents were flown to New York to be part of the conversation with Cooper and O’Brien.

The series aired in early April—and that was the first time McGraw saw the show and the survey results.

The survey shed light on several issues surrounding racism. Children spoke about being rejected by friends because of their race and of being afraid to bring someone of a different race home to their families.

But the surveys also showed that students who attended diverse schools are more likely to have positive feelings about people of other races.

McGraw said that overall, she felt positive about the series.

“There’s underlying racism—that kind of came out that it’s always there to some degree. I don’t know if it will ever be totally gone,” she said. “But there’s a greater acceptance our community has a variety of kids with different backgrounds and they seem to be accepted.”

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973



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