Whites now minority in county schools | VailDaily.com

Whites now minority in county schools

EAGLE COUNTY ” Robert Cuevas says he was one of two Hispanic kids in his entire fourth grade at Eagle Valley Elementary School.

Cuevas, who is now the principal at Berry Creek Middle School, says things have obviously changed since the 1980s and 1990s, when he was an Eagle County student and Hispanics were a small minority.

“Back then it was sink or swim ” there weren’t many people to speak Spanish with,” Cuevas said. “If you wanted to interact with people, you had to know English.”

For the first time in the district’s history, Hispanic students outnumber white students in the school district. Officials say 50 percent of the study body this year is Hispanic, and white students make up 48 percent.

One of the biggest challenges for the school district is teaching students who know little or no English.

While 50 percent of the student body may be Hispanic, many of those students are from third- or fourth-generation families raised in the United States and have no problem with English.

From a teacher’s standpoint, the difficulty comes with the 30 percent to 36 percent of students who are learning English as a second language.

These are the students that lag far behind English speaking students on standardized tests, mainly because they can’t read the questions, said Mike Gass, director of secondary education.

Back in the 1990s, a teacher might have had a handful of students learning English as a second language, and they could be pulled aside and taught in small groups. Now, depending on where you go to school, you’ll have almost entire classes of students who are learning a new language.

Teachers had to start doing more than teaching math and history ” they had to teach a language.

“Some of our classes now, it takes a special individual to not only teach content but also teach a language, to not only make a kid feel good about coming to school, but also bridge the language gap,” Gass said.

Cuevas remembers being one of the few bilingual students at his school and was pulled out of class every day to “make the rounds” and make sure the few Hispanic students in other classes understood their assignments.

Now, he said, there are lots more resources out there for Spanish-speaking students.

The district has had to adapt to the changing demographics, especially in the past decade.

Since 2000, Cuevas has seen Berry Creek shift from 80 percent of its students being white to 80 percent being Hispanic. Avon Elementary has the highest Hispanic population Hispanic students accounting for more than 90 percent of its student body and more than 75 percent speaking little or no English.

As more Spanish speaking students moved into the valley, it became increasingly important for the district to expand language programs, find bilingual teachers and innovate with the dual-language program, Gass said.

In the dual-language program, Spanish-speaking students learn English and English-speaking students to learn Spanish, all in the same class, said Heidi Hanssen, principal at Edwards Elementary.

“If you go back a decade, Edwards elementary was in a tough spot,” Gass said, “but parents and staff got very innovative and came up with the dual-language program. That program has become a great example of making something that is challenging the community into something positive.”

The dual-language program is also being used at Avon Elementary and Berry Creek Middle School.

“It’s great to see our students mixing regardless of language,” Hanssen said. “All of our students are learning a second language, which sets an even playing field.”

Next year, Battle Mountain High School will start offering dual-language classes, Gass said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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