New federal estimates chart the rapid increase in Howard County's Asian community, which in three years has grown from 7.6 percent to nearly 10 percent of the county's total population.

Overall, the county's population grew from 247,842 in 2000 to 264,265 by July 1, 2003, an increase of 16,423, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week. Asians accounted for 38.2 percent of that total growth, climbing by an estimated 6,285 residents, to 25,589.

The growth in the number of Asians in Howard outstripped all but Montgomery County in Maryland. It also far outpaced the estimated growth of other Howard minority populations, including African Americans and Hispanics. Still, minorities accounted for more than 60 percent of Howard's total population growth during the three years.

Howard's non-Hispanic, white population grew by 6,514 people. The growth rate of that population has declined each year since 2000. In contrast, the white population growth was dominant in other formerly rural, suburban counties, such as Carroll, Frederick and Harford, according to an analysis by Mark Goldstein with the Maryland Department of Planning.

Howard's black population grew to an estimated 37,846 in 2003, constituting about 14 percent of the population, the same as in 2000. The number of Hispanic residents was estimated at 8,774 in 2003, remaining 3 percent of the total. Hispanic advocates have argued that the census undercounts this group because Hispanic immigrants without proper documentation often are not included.

According to the 2000 Census, Koreans comprised the largest segment of Howard's Asian community, followed by Asian Indians and Chinese. The 2003 Census estimates do not provide a breakdown of Asian population growth, but local officials report that the Korean community continues to expand rapidly.

Roy Appletree, executive director of the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network (FIRN), said the Korean community's fast growth has not resulted in a dramatic demand for FIRN's counseling and support services because new residents typically have higher incomes compared with immigrants from other countries. They also can turn to an existing network of Korean churches and businesses and a Korean American community association, Appletree said.

Young-chan Han, a Korean family outreach specialist who has worked six years with the county school system, said that for Korean immigrants, Howard "is a place where they feel comfortable about settling in, because a large number of immigrants are here already. Schools for most of our families are the number one reason for most of them moving."

Howard's Korean influx has transformed the demographics at Hollifield Station Elementary School in Ellicott City. During the 1999-2000 school year, white students accounted for 74 percent of the population and Asians totaled 11 percent. This year, white students represent about 52 percent of enrollment and Asian students, mostly Korean, total about 30 percent, said Linda Dombrowski, president of the school's PTA. During that same period, the numbers of black and Hispanic students grew slightly.

On Oct. 19, the Hollifield PTA is sponsoring its first American Culture Night for Asian parents from Hollifield, Waverly and St. John's Lane elementary schools, said Dombrowski. The event, which will include interpreters, is an attempt to explain elements of U.S. education -- how teachers encourage children to ask questions, the role of physical education, participation in after-school activities and why schools hold in-class celebrations such as Halloween parties, for example. Asian parents sometimes think it's intrusive to ask questions, Dombrowski said.

"We're hoping if they understand the American education system better, it will increase their confidence level and maybe encourage them to be more active," she said. "It's okay to be involved. We want you to be involved."