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Originally posted August 21, 2012
Tulsa schools see big boost in Hispanic enrollment in last five years
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
A steady influx of Hispanic children combined with student mobility among schools and rising poverty rates have led to a changing face for Tulsa-area classrooms over the last five years.
"We are not seeing a large transfer population. These are students who live in our area," said Principal Ginger Bunnell, whose school, Memorial Junior High, has seen a marked increase in Hispanic students even as its overall enrollment has fallen by 16 percent since 2007. "We provide translators for open house and parent conferences and make sure any materials sent home are provided in Spanish as well. They are very concerned about their children and want to know how they're doing, so we want to make sure they can connect with us."
The demographics of Tulsa Public Schools have shifted dramatically, even as enrollment has remained level at about 41,000. With an enrollment of 8,021 - nearly 2,700 more than were in TPS in 2007 - Hispanic students now fill more than one-quarter of the district's seats and hold the majority at 10 of its roughly 75 sites.
In Union, 42 percent of schools receive federal funding because of their high concentrations of low-income students.
"I think in the last five years we've seen more students moving into our district with other family members due to loss of job," said Jackie White, Union's executive director of student data and assessment. "I think the economy has driven many things, not just in Union, but across the entire state of Oklahoma."
The Jenks school district has changed significantly in terms of both student ethnicity and poverty.
"Compared to Tulsa and some other districts, it's not as much. But we have changed dramatically over the past 10 years in our demographics," said spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers.
For the past two years, Jenks East Elementary School has qualified for federal Title I assistance funding for schoolwide programs based on its large percentage of low-income students.
The school, at 91st Street and Harvard Avenue, is located in south Tulsa, which has a reputation as a higher-income area.
"The number of low-income students has increased due to the bad economy," Rogers said.
Susan Harris, senior vice president of education and workforce for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, said the movement of low-income populations into neighborhoods that previously were considered middle- to high-income areas is directly related to housing. With the rise of families in poverty, federally subsidized housing for the poor has spread outside the traditional low-income enclaves.
"We have seen over the last 20 years that lower-income people have more of an opportunity to choose where they want to live," she said. "People can choose where they want to live, whether it's closer to schools or their job."
Bunnell, at Memorial Junior High, said she has seen firsthand the evidence of the economic downturn on her students' families.
"We do still see a lot of movement of families moving in with grandparents or aunts and uncles. They tell us 'We're trying to stay in this area, but we had to move in with relatives to do it,' " she said.
Higher rates of mobility has also had a hand in the changing counts in Union schools. The district has a high number of students who live in apartments, typically a more mobile population. Fifty-two apartment complexes feed into the Union school district, White said.
Education researchers say the impact of frequent student mobility or "family transience" on urban schools' student achievement reflected in test scores is undeniable, and social problems arising from frequent school changes are common.
Mary Bourque, the superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools in Chelsea, Mass., wrote a study on the issue titled "Swapping Desks: The Impact of Mobility on Student Achievement," which goes so far as to say high student mobility is the "primary contributor" to the low academic achievement of many urban students.
"The correlation between students who move frequently and those who live below or near poverty is very high," she wrote.
DEMOGRAPHIC MAKEUP OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS THAT SERVE STUDENTS WITHIN THE TULSA CITY LIMITS
Sequoyah Elementary's Hispanic growth gradual
On Thursday afternoon, a white minivan pulled up in front of the school office, and out piled Remedio Rios and five of her children, ranging in age from 16 to 1. The oldest, Edeli Rios, had attended Sequoyah as a young child, but then the Rios family moved east, into the McKinley Elementary School attendance area.
They moved back into the Sequoyah neighborhood this summer - this time into a bigger house to accommodate their growing family. With her husband at work at the paint store where he is a manager, Remedio Rios came to enroll two of her children at Sequoyah with Edeli's help translating for the school office clerks.
"I'm excited," said fifth-grader Griseyda Rios.
"Yeah, we want to make some new friends," said her 8-year-old brother, Ualberto Rios, who will be in the third grade.
Longtime faculty members say the shift in Sequoyah's population from majority white to majority Hispanic occurred so gradually that they didn't notice it right away.
"You just accept the kids that come in and meet them where they're at," said P.E. teacher Dianna Potts, who has worked there more than 20 years. "I didn't notice the change until about 10 years ago when I started writing grants. The applications ask, 'What are the school's demographics?' "
As the Rios family filed out of the office, Cindy Steininger, who has been a teacher and counselor at Sequoyah since 1984, stopped to greet them.
"Rios is your last name? I know you!" she exclaimed, wrapping Edeli into a big hug. "We haven't had many Rioses."
Then Edeli introduced her to the school's two newest Rios students.