By Curt Yeomans
When you are Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell, how do you keep the interest of elementary school children when you are following up a performance by "Clifford, the Big, Red Dog," with a speech about the 2010 U.S. Census?
Bell, who was in that exact situation during a U.S. Census Bureau "Census In Schools" event at E.W. Oliver Elementary School on Thursday, just made Clifford a part of his speech.
"Guess what, everyone?" Bell asked the youths. "Clifford has filled out his census form, and mailed it back in. Have you sent yours in as well?"
The hour-long census event was held to raise awareness among children about what the U.S. Census is, and to encourage them to get their parents to fill out the form and send it back to the Census Bureau, said George Grandy, Jr., the U.S. Census Bureau's regional director for Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
The youngsters heard speeches from Bell, Grandy, "Census in Schools" Program National Chief Renee Jefferson-Copeland, Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn Dixon, Clayton County Board of Education Member Jessie Goree, and Clayton County Public Schools Area 1 Assistant Superintendent Derrick Manning.
Several children and teachers also performed census-related skits, cheers, songs and a step dance. "Clifford" acted out the U.S. Census Bureau children's story, "Everybody Counts."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's web site, Clayton County had a census return rate of 64 percent, as of Thursday. That is down seven percentage points from the county's 71 percent return rate in 2000.
There are a total of 87,000 households in Clayton County, according to Grandy. People who do not mail their census forms back to the Census Bureau can expect to receive home visits from census volunteers, Gandy said. "The visits will begin the first week in May," he said.
"We've got 80,000, to 90,000 people who will be doing home visits in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Ten percent of them are in Metro Atlanta."
Despite the lower return rate for the county, the rates are up in Jonesboro (69 percent, up one percentage point from 2000), and Lovejoy (62 percent, up 13 percentage points). The return rates are down slightly in Riverdale (66 percent, down two percentage points) and Forest Park (64 percent, down five percentage points).
The return rates are down dramatically, however, in Morrow (57 percent, down 19 percentage points) and Lake City (50 percent, down 22 percentage points).
"We want to give information on the census to children, so they can go home and share it with their parents, and encourage them to mail their census forms back, if they have not already done so," said Jefferson-Copeland. "It's their [the youths] first census, and we want to make sure they are counted."
All of the speakers told the children their parents need to fill out their census form, and send it in, because federal funding for communities is based on population counts gained through the census.
By participating in the school's census rally, fifth-grader, Faith Shannon, 10, said she learned, "It's not about people being all in your business. It's about information that is helpful for the community."