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4/6/2017 5:20:00 PM
Converging Logansport cultures: Hispanic students up, white students down over past decade
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Ben Middelkamp, Pharos-Tribune

Three of seven Logansport Community School Corp. buildings have a minority of white students and a combined majority of Hispanic, Asian, African American and multiracial kids — something that’s never happened before in Logansport, according to state data.

For more than a decade, families from Latin America have moved into Logansport and its schools, replacing the large number of white students that left during that time.

Logansport had 3,126 white and 945 Hispanic students during the 2006-2007 school year. A decade later, that number has decreased by about 28 percent for white kids, to 2,242, and steadily increased by 79 percent among Hispanics, to 1,695 kids, this school year.

That enrollment data is compiled by the Indiana Department of Education on its Compass website and based on student count days. Emily Graham, LCSC English language director, said the student population number, however, often changes during a school year.

She said faculty and staff are used to new students arriving from Latin America, whether that’s once a week or once a month, and plugging them into classes that meet their needs.

“It’s part of what we do as a school now,” she said. “It’s embedded in what we do.”

IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE STUDENTS

When Graham started teaching in 1997, she said there weren't many Spanish-speaking kids in the corporation. She only had a few in her class. After several years, more and more Hispanic families came to town — eventually, 900 Hispanic kids attended Logansport schools in 2005.

Much of that occurred in the years following a wave of factory closings in Logansport, such as Exide and Trelleborg. Cass County’s population has also been decreasing for the past few decades and is at its lowest in 70 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Graham said Logansport schools might have been a third or so smaller than they once were if Hispanic families didn’t fill in the gaps of white families in town leaving and getting older.

The state distributes money to schools based on enrollment. LCSC's population has dropped by just 1.3 percent over the past 10 years. That rate, however, could have been much worse, data indicate.

“I don’t know if people realize that,” Graham said. “It’s because of these families moving in that we’ve been able to sustain the staff and the buildings and the size of the town.”

Over the past couple of years, Logansport has had an influx of refugees that have fled from Myanmar, formerly Burma. The country has had an ongoing civil war for more than six decades between the county’s government and several minority ethnic groups. Many of those families lived in refugee camps in southeast Asia near the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.

Earlier this year, Graham said the school corporation had 37 refugee students and many others who don’t have refugee status anymore since they’ve lived in the U.S. for more than three years. According to state data, 2.6 percent of the LCSC student population is Asian, or about 112 kids.

NOT JUST IN LOGANSPORT

Logansport's not the only city of its size to have a rise in Hispanic students. In Seymour, located in southern Indiana, schools have had English learner, or EL, students for the past 15 years, said Diane Altemeyer, director of federal and state programs at Seymour Community Schools.

Almost 25 percent of its 4,704 students are Hispanic, and 69 percent are white, according to state data. In 2006, just 6.4 percent of its student population was Hispanic. The town of Seymour had a population of 18,866 in 2013, comparable to an 18,034 population size that same year in Logansport.

Altemeyer said Seymour's industry sector has expanded and brought more jobs to the area over the past couple of decades. The city's population has been rising almost every year since 1990, according to census data, and so has the corporation's enrollment.

Ana Maria De Gante, director of English learners services in Seymour, said many Spanish speakers moved to the area for work opportunities, which led to the creation of the corporation's EL program. It first started as a magnet school for EL learners, Altemeyer said, but as the population kept growing, school officials expanded the program's services to all seven schools.

GROWING DIVERSITY

Ten years ago, less than a quarter of Logansport students were Hispanic. That's grown to almost 40 percent of the corporation.

Columbia Elementary, Columbia Middle and Landis Elementary schools each have white students in the minority, though white students still make up the largest single group in those schools. Columbia Middle's population is 49.2 percent white and 43.9 percent Hispanic, and Landis students are 49.7 percent white and 40.2 percent Hispanic.

The only school that has a clear majority of Hispanic students is Columbia Elementary — and that’s been the case since 2013. The school's student population is 50.7 percent Hispanic. About 7.8 percent of kids are either black, Asian or multiracial, and the rest — 41.5 percent — are white.

Liz Loposser, principal of Columbia Elementary since 2007, said that demographic change has been ongoing for several years now. The 2010-2011 school year was the last time white students were in the majority at the elementary.

Loposser said faculty and staff have had to rethink how they teach since then. Over the past few years, especially, teachers have focused on vocabulary instruction in class, she said.

Many Spanish speakers first pick up on "social language," such as greetings and common words when they first learn English, Loposser said. But it takes a while to use "academic language," which are words found on tests and in textbooks, like simile, metaphor, perimeter and area.

Since Columbia faculty and staff decided last spring to focus more on teaching academic language to first- and second-graders, Loposser said they've noticed more EL students and kids in general using it in writing and in conversations in the classroom with students and teachers.

Not only does Columbia have the largest percentage of Hispanic students in the corporation, but it also educates the most students receiving free- or reduced-priced lunches, an indicator of low-income households. Loposser said those differences in languages and backgrounds don't keep kids from being kids.

"They support each other. They look out for each other," she said. "They’re used to, this is our school. This is who is in our school.”

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