- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) — The cheerful sign outside Jane Cornell’s summer school classroom in Pennsylvania’s wealthiest county says “Welcome” and “Bienvenidos” in polished handwriting.

Inside, giggling grade-schoolers who mostly come from homes where Spanish is the primary language worked on storytelling with a tale about a crocodile going to the dentist. The children and their classroom at the Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center, near both mushroom farms and the borough’s bucolic red-brick downtown, are a subtle reminder of America’s changing school demographics.

For the first time ever, U.S. public schools are projected this fall to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites enrolled, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children.


PHOTOS: White students no longer to be majority in school


Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.8 percent. But the National Center for Education Statistics says minority students, when added together, will now make up the majority.

About one-quarter of the minority students are Hispanic, 15 percent are black and 5 percent are Asian and Pacific Islanders. Biracial students and Native Americans make up a smaller share of the minority student population.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the changing population a seminal moment in education. “We can’t talk about other people’s children. These are our children,” he said.

The shift creates new academic realities, such as the need for more English language instruction, and cultural ones, meaning changes in school lunch menus to reflect students’ tastes.

But it also brings some complex societal questions that often fall to school systems to address, including issues of immigration, poverty, diversity and inequity.

The result, at times, is racial and ethnic tension.

In Louisiana in July, Jefferson Parish public school administrators reached an agreement with the federal government to end an investigation into discrimination against English language learners.

In May, police had to be called to a school in the Streamwood, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, to help break up a fight between Hispanic and black students after a racially based lunchroom brawl got out of control.

Issues of race and ethnicity in school can also be more subtle.

In the Kennett Consolidated School District, Superintendent Barry Tomasetti described parents who opt to send their kids to private schools across the border in Delaware after touring diverse classrooms. Other families, he said, seek out the district’s diverse schools “because they realize it’s not a homogenous world out there.”

The changes in the district, about an hour southwest outside of Philadelphia, from mostly middle-to-upper class white to about 40 percent Hispanic was driven partly by workers migrating from Mexico and elsewhere to work the mushroom farms.

“We like our diversity,” Tomasetti said, even as he acknowledged the cost. He has had to hire English language instructors and translators for parent-teacher conferences. He has cobbled together money to provide summer school for many young English language learners who need extra reading and math support.

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