Green Bay schools embrace their minority-majority populations

The growth in diversity brings many positives and also a few setbacks

Green Bay Police Back to School Jefferson Elementary 2

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – The Green Bay Public School District is seeing a transformation as some minority populations are being embraced as the majority.

This is the case with schools like Jefferson Elementary, which has a population that is made of nearly 65 percent minority students. The school’s minority population is made up of primarily Asian-American students—followed by African American, Hispanic and American Indian populations. That’s three times more diverse than the average public school in Wisconsin.

One of the obvious differences is these schools is the varying languages these students speak. For instance, last week Action 2 News toured the bilingual Spanish-English Baird elementary school in the Green Bay District which has a high Hispanic population and is seeing more Somali students, too.

Some students come to school knowing almost no English at all. Teachers work hard to gain the trust of non-English speaking guardians, who may be uneasy about getting involved in their child’s education. “We have to look at- how can we make this successful, and how do we get our community to put our arms around and engage all of the families that are coming into our community and make them feel welcome and feel that this is a wonderful place for them and their students to live,” said Toni Lardinois-Babe in Green Bay Student Services.

“Statistics show that when parents are involved, then the kids are doing better,” said Ingrid Parker-Hill, Family Engagement Coordinator

Educators say their student’s differences have a positive impact on education, and it’s helpful to let students see a worldview unlike their own. District officials say some parents have even transferred their kids in mostly white schools to those with more diversity and opportunities to learn Spanish in an organic environment.

“That’s a plus,” said Luis Franco, Bilingual Family Engagement Coordinator.” I can tell you that transnational companies are always on the lookout for bilingual individuals.”

“Our schools are showing that there are students and families of all diverse backgrounds coming– and with that comes an abundance of culture– of academic resources, of behavior, of just a real abundance of opportunity for us to look like the world we live in,” said Lardinois-Babe.

But with the positives of a growth in diversity comes a few setbacks.

The language barrier means that sometimes even the most academically proficient students aren’t always able to pass statewide tests that are supposed to show how well a district is doing. Low scores may also have an overall impact on the school’s rank—which, at this time—the district says is not linked to how much funding each school receives.

And while the population inside Jefferson is diverse, the socioeconomic status of the families whose children go to school there is not. Ninety percent of students at the elementary school qualify for free or reduced lunch, and statistics point to a growing problem rising between poverty and a child’s ability to graduate from high school.

The school district recognizes that issue and is trying to meet the need using a team of family engagement coordinators who work with parents to connect them to resources in the community. “I find out what’s happening and then I go from there. If they cannot find a job- okay. There are resources for that. If they’re missing some skills that could help them get a job,” said Parker-Hill.

“It can be very overwhelming. But I can tell you that at the end of the day, it is a very satisfying job,” said Franco.