Monday October 9, 2017

Majority minority in OKC schools mirrors city’s growth

Oklahoma City Public Schools’ recent statistical report tracks the Latino student population at 54 percent, up 2 percent from last year. This mirrors the growth in Oklahoma City and in the nation.

According to data provided by the Latino Community Development Agency at their annual luncheon last week, Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, accounting for 53 percent of U.S. population growth since 2000. The Pew Research Institute says that these 58 million individuals have been the principal driver of demographic growth in our country. Greater Oklahoma City Chamber CEO Roy Williams echoed this growth trend for Oklahoma City in his keynote address to the luncheon attendees.

What does this mean for our schools? About one-third of OKCPS students are English Language Learners, meaning that these students are learning English but are not yet fluent. Many come from homes where English is not spoken as the primary language. The beauty of this is that these students are learning English and, when proficient, will be bilingual. What a blessing that is in our multicultural world and global society.

While the Latino students in our classrooms are learning English, they many times have difficulties keeping up with the content being delivered in English. Bilingual teachers and paraprofessionals play a huge role in the classroom, as they provide additional help, allowing the students to comprehend lessons and keep up with their classmates. Consider for a moment being in a class being taught in Spanish. Without help, the challenges would be obvious, even if you are relying on your memory of 8th grade Spanish.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these valuable professionals in our classrooms. Oklahoma City Public Schools is innovative with their approach to bilingual teacher recruitment and have even recruited from other countries to fill the gap.

The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools is working to address the need through the Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Project. There are currently 34 bilingual paraprofessionals studying to become certified teachers and they are committed to staying in Oklahoma City Public Schools. The Foundation is also starting a program for OKCPS staff to learn conversational Spanish, which will allow them to improve communications with students and families.

There are also many Latino families committed to learning English. The Community Literacy Center provides English courses to families throughout the community and in some of our schools and the Foundation is looking for ways to help expand these services.

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