News Column

Hispanic Enrollment Surges in Georgia's Metro Schools

May 30, 2013

The minority population boom is echoing through the region's classrooms.

Enrollment of Hispanic students rose dramatically between 2000 and 2012 while enrollment of white students in metro Atlanta declined by about 30,000.

The number of Hispanic students jumped by more than 100,000 in those dozen years, according to figures released Wednesday by the Atlanta Regional Commission. Hispanic students have become 16 percent of the student population, as the proportion of white students declined to 37 percent. Asian and African-American enrollment numbers also rose.

Those student population changes roughly track general population trends, and they have put additional economic pressures on districts already squeezed by shrinking budgets.

In Gwinnett, the state's largest school district, Hispanic enrollment almost doubled in a decade, said Jorge Quintana, school system spokesman. About 25 percent of Gwinnett's 165,000 students are classified as Hispanic, compared to 14 percent in 2002, he said.

Fifty-five of the district's 133 schools receive Title I federal funds due to their high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, many of whom are Hispanic. Gwinnett, like other school districts, has English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and other outreach programs to help minority students, including parent centers where certified teachers work with parents on how to help their children at home to succeed at school.

The district has interpreters as well as staff working in parent outreach and offering other services, Quintana said. In the just-completed school year, the district also formed a partnership with Georgia Tech aimed at identifying and attracting more Hispanic students to the critical STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math, he said.

That program was established in the Meadowcreek cluster around Norcross and Lawrenceville, which has a high concentration of Hispanic students, he said.

Other districts have similar programs, but it's hard to figure exactly how much they -- and increasing populations of students who enter school unable to speak English -- cost a district.

Fulton County Public Schools superintendent Robert Avossa said ESOL programs require additional training for teachers, and students entering school unable to speak English make it difficult for schools to reach overall academic performance targets because of the language learning curve.

Comer Yates, executive director of The Atlanta Speech School and a member of The Georgia Coalition for English Learners, said national English learners generally do not read at grade level until the 8th grade. Chantal Normil, director of ESOL for Clayton County Public Schools, said that district has focused on engaging parents of Hispanic and other minority students.

Last January the Clayton district opened a new international center with English-as-a-second-language classes and workshops for parents. "The research clearly shows that you have to include the parents as well or you won't be successful," said Normil.

At Marietta City Schools, which has had a 30 percent Hispanic student enrollment for about the past five years, one of the challenges is sustaining the graduation rate because of what school system spokesman Thomas Algarin described as the students' "mobility rate."

"It affects the graduation rate and students' ability to succeed," he said. The problem is worse at the high school level, where the rigor demands students be there all the time, Algarin said. He said the system has parent liaisons who work with the Hispanic community. It also has a program, known as Passport, where parents go to school for eight weeks, largely to learn how to help their students with homework, study skills and English language skills.

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, says educators aren't doing enough. "Statistics indicate there's a lot of work to be done," he said. "I think we need to take a look at these numbers very seriously and make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure the academic success for all students, particularly a large and growing part of metro Atlanta."

Jose Perez, a Cuban-born member of the state Charter Schools Commission, said some districts are making more progress than others in adapting to the growing enrollment of minority students, but another problem is perception and how to define "Hispanic."

"There is a big difference between kids who don't speak the language and kids who don't speak the language and haven't been in school," he said.

Three of his children were born in this country and spoke fluent English when they started school, as well as Spanish. "They were considered Hispanic, but they were as American as apple pie," said Perez.

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Enrollment change, 2000-2010 (public schools)

White

Black Asian Hispanic

Clayton

- 8,141 +5,231 +180 +5,882

Cobb

-13,986 +11,134 +1,908 +12,125

DeKalb

+480 -6,080 +1,043 +6,190

Fayette

-3,331 +2,156 +381 +1,397

Fulton

+859 +773 +4,201 +7,716

Gwinnett

-17,326 +27,794 +6,752 +29,585

metro*

-24,925 +85,553 +19,195 +92,487

--20-county region around Atlanta: Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Newton, Paulding, Rockdale, Spalding, Walton

County population change 2000-2010

White Black

Asian Hispanic

Clayton

-46,468 +47,580 +2,009 +17,719

Cobb

-32,986 +53,926 +11,509 +37,366

DeKalb

-13,352 +9,273 +8,021 +15,282

Fayette

-2,789 +10,671 +1,878 +4,178

Fulton

+3,576 +37,907 +26,182 +24,510

Gwinnett

-41,985 +106,419 +41,667 +97,898

metro*

+85,087 +467,778 +114,909 +294,412

--20-county region around Atlanta: Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Newton, Paulding, Rockdale, Spalding, Walton

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Source: (c)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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