West Allis - Less dramatic demographic changes are seen year to year in ethnic and cultural changes as the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District becomes more diverse, Dan Weast, student services director, told the School Board on Monday.
"It's a critically important topic," Weast said. As the schools become more diverse, the challenge is for them to be as culturally responsive as they can be, he explained.
Change by percentage
While the shifts have been slow, they have been profound over the years.
In the last 18 years, the percentage of nonwhite students rose from a start of 9 percent to 40 percent this year, according to data Weast presented.
Currently, the district is 60 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black, 2 percent Asian and 6 percent "other," including American Indians, Alaskan native, Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders and two or more racial groups.
The group that has increased the most is Hispanic students, Weast said - that group has increased 1 to 2 percent annually for 16 years in a row.
Similarly, black students had a steady rise starting in the 1995-96 school year but has been stable the last couple of years, he said.
The schools are reacting to the challenges of the demographic shifts in several ways.
Diversity, as a lesson
Because the student bodies are increasingly diverse, the schools have significant diversity teaching, especially at the elementary schools, Weast said.
Starting in kindergarten, the goal is to lay a foundation by focusing on such aspects as respecting and accepting others, kindness, being fair to others, learning from others and treating others as you would want to be treated.
In first grade, more is added, including acting like a friend, empathizing with others, helping others and noticing others' feelings.
Second grade works on being polite, sharing and recognizing that everyone has an equal voice.
Third grade is where diversity is taught for the first time as an educational unit.
Some of those lessons focus on respecting differences, similarities and differences, point of view, the concept of culture and explaining what prejudice is, Weast said.
Diversity training goes on through ninth grade.
In a diverse school environment, school officials have recognized that it's even more critical for students to feel connected with school, that the school appreciates differences and that it's safe, Weast said.
"We're seeing nice improvements," in those areas, Weast said, judging by surveys and student membership in clubs.
Driving that progress is the district's Diversity Academy, he said. It does in indepth studies of how to make sure students feel accepted, student relationships and how to connect best with kids, Weast said. Leaders are chosen for the academy and create school action plans, he said.
- Jane Ford-Stewart
AT A GLANCE
According to West Allis-West Allis School District data for 2012-13, major ethic groups in the schools are:
West Allis Central - black, 17 percent; Hispanic, 30 percent; white, 46 percent
Nathan Hale - black, 5 percent; Hispanic, 13 percent; white, 73 percent
Alternative Learning Center - black, 18 percent; Hispanic, 32 percent; white, 42 percent
Shared Journey - black, 27 percent; Hispanic 55 percent; white, 17 percent
West Milwaukee - black, 22 percent; Hispanic, 38 percent; white, 35 percent
Lincoln - black, 9 percent; Hispanic, 20 percent; white, 64 percent
Frank Lloyd Write - black, 6 percent; Hispanic, 17 percent; white, 69 percent
Franklin - black, 9 percent; Hispanic, 20 percent; white, 63 percent
Hoover - black, 11 percent; Hispanic, 12 percent; white, 67 percent
Irving - black, 8 percent; Hispanic, 18 percent; white, 62 percent
Horace Mann - black, 14 percent; Hispanic, 33 percent: white, 43 percent
Jefferson - black, 10 percent; Hispanic, 21 percent; white, 57 percent
Longfellow - black, 10 percent; Hispanic, 32 percent; 52 percent
Madison - black, 3 percent; Hispanic, 13 percent; 81 percent
Mitchell - black, 7 percent; Hispanic, 8 percent; white, 78 percent
Pershing - black, 10 percent; Hispanic, 43 percent; white, 37 percent
Walker - black, 5 percent; Hispanic, 12 percent; white, 72 percent
Wilson - black, 7 percent; Hispanic, 18 percent; white, 68 percent
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