Hispanic students are the fastest growing minority in the Wichita Falls Independent School District. Just in the past ten years the Hispanic population has nearly doubled in size. Right now Hispanic students make up 33 percent of the WFISD. School leaders say that number is going to grow by huge margins in the next few years.
Newschannel 6 sat down with school officials to find out exactly what the district is doing to take on these numbers, and what is being done to help students with Spanish only speaking parents.
Dr. Tim Powers, Assistant Superintendent of WFISD says, "Down the road in our district clearly more than 50 percent of our students will be Hispanic students and that means that we have to change the ways we reach and teach our students."
Reaching and teaching the growing number of Hispanic students in the WFISD has been progressing year by year. Powers says right now providing more time and resources for their students has been the goal. He also understands the transition is not an easy one. "Every culture is different. We need to ensure that we are teaching from a vantage point that allows us to utilize every bit of the cultural norms that the Hispanic culture has."
TAKS test results show that the district's proactive approach has been working. Newschannel 6 looked at the districts TAKS test results and they show Hispanic students are still scoring below average. But the most important thing is progress is being made. We looked at graphs that show TAKS results back in 2008. In all subjects Hispanic students are scoring below average. We compared the 2008 results with 2011 results. We then could see the gap between all students verses Hispanic students getting smaller.
Powers comments, "Ultimately our students have to be prepared to master the TAKS test and our results show that our Spanish population using the 2008 as a bench mark, over the last three years have shown significant increases to the exemplary performance level."
Powers says the majority of their Hispanic population students can speak English, but many have gone through the district's English as a second language program. Becky Hernandez, the ESL Program Coordinator says in the past five years, the program has nearly doubled in size. Hispanics make up the largest minority in their program. Hernandez the goal is to try and make each student proficient in English within two to three years of them joining. Hernandez says their success rate has been pretty high.
Hernandez comments, "I think being bilingual is changing and is being much more accepted. Parents want their children to grow up speaking two languages. It gives them an advantage when they get into the workforce."
Hernandez says currently there are 35 teachers in the district who are bilingual and speak Spanish. She says the students are learning and adapting inside the classrooms, but in some cases the involvement is not all there on the parents side. "Parents don't feel welcomed when they come into the schools and it's a cultural thing. In their countries parents don't get involved in the school system as they do here in the American culture."
Hernandez does recognize the cultural differences and does try to encourage parents to take advantage of the WFISD's Parent Language Programs. They help parents practice their English, so they can feel more comfortable immersing themselves in their child's school.
Juana Martinez is a parent who only speaks Spanish. She has two children in the WFISD. She says it is sometimes frustrating not being able to find interpreter on campus for parent meetings. "At times we need to find a person who speaks Spanish so that they can help us. At times they are not there. This past year at times we couldn't find them so my son had to be the translator. It would also help to have Spanish speaking people in the offices too."
Maria Guadalupe Casillas has one daughter at Wichita Falls High School. She says her problem lies with encouraging her daughter to go to college. Casillas says her daughter is 16 and pregnant. She says it is not an easy task to push her daughter to go to college because she did not go to college herself. Also cultural norms for Spanish girls tend to push younger teens to start families much sooner than later.
Casillas says, "For me I get really sad because these girls have a bright future looking forward and they do things without thinking. They don't understand that having a child is a big responsibility. I told her you have to study so that you can get a good job so that your not like your dad and I. We work in the heat and cold and you should strive to get a job working in an office."
Becky Hernandez says the ESL Program works especially with the Hispanic girls starting in the 6th grade up until the end of high school. They try and teach them the value of education. "We do culturally know that the girls all they strive for is to be mommies and to create their families. We know culturally that's important, but we do want to teach that they could become individual career women as well. They can learn how to balance the two."
WFISD officials say they understand the growing number of the Hispanic population is not just unique to Wichita Falls, but is happening all across the state. Powers says the district does recognize the importance for all their minority students, including the Hispanic students, to become educated and flourish. Powers comments, "I believe that the economic future of not only our state but also of our country is going to depend upon educating our Hispanic population. We need to get them ready not only for the workforce but for the global workforce."
The WFISD is seeing higher college rates for their Hispanic students. They say a large number of those students started out in immigrant families. District officials also say they are trying to target those parents who are more open so that they can talk with other Hispanic families and encourage them to motivate their children at home.
Click here to learn more about the WFISD's Academic Success Program. Spanish speaking parents can get the help needed to maximize a child's chances of gaining admission to top colleges and universities.
Natalie Garcia, Newschannel 6