Diversity increases in Sioux Falls School District

KELOLAND.com Original
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NOTE: This story has been updated to include the total number of English learner schools in the Sioux Falls Districts. There are 11 elementary schools and four each in middle school and high school.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The student make-up of the Sioux Falls School District continues to change.

Nearly 41% (40.7%) of the district’s 24,029 students are not white, according to a demographics profile presented at the Oct. 13 Sioux Falls School Board meeting. The percentage of white students was 59.3%.

There are 79 different languages spoken by the district’s 2,600 English Language Learners.

The report said 1,537 of those ELL students speak Spanish. The figure is similar to last year.

Last year, nearly 60% of the student population was white, according to the 2020-2021 school year demographic report.

Last year, the district’s 2,720 ELL students spoke 90 languages.

“Most of our (ELL) students were born in the U.S.,” said Sara Klaahsen, the coordinator of the district’s language immersion programs. Klaahsen said 51.7% of the ELL students were born in the U.S.

Families of ELL students can choose to send their student to one of 19 full ELL service campuses in the district or have the student attend their home school, Klaahsen said.

There are 11 ELL elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools.

“Most of our families choose the (ELL) school,” Klaahsen said.

Although 79 different languages are spoken, Klaahsen said the district does not translate classroom material to all 79.

The district uses other methods such as images to help with vocabulary, Klaahsen said.

When families need district information in their first language, the district will provide a translator or connect the family with a translator via a language line service, she said.

Klaahsen was an instructor and coach in the ELL program for five years and taught ELL students at Lincoln High School for 11 years before she started her language immersion role this past July.

“…sometimes I may have had 12 or 13 languages in my classroom,” Klaahsen said.

“My experience has been that often times students with a strong grasp of school in their first language (do well) with their second language,” Klaahsen said.

In general, students and teachers have found creative ways to share knowledge, Klaahsen said.

“I think the most important thing is creating a welcoming and comfortable environment,” Klaahsen said.

Students from other cultures are especially relational so a welcoming environment allows those relationships to be established, Klaahsen said.

The Sioux Falls District grew the most in two specific areas.

The Hispanic population grew from 13% to 13.7% in one year. The multi-racial population also grew from 6.4% to 7% in one year.

The diversity in 2021-2022 continues a trend of increased diversity in the student population.

The student population was 65.3% white in the 2016-2017 school year, according to that year’s demographic report. The 34.7% ethnic diversity percentage was a 1.5% increase from the 2015-2016 school year.

The district’s overall enrollment also grew from last year. There were 23,912 students in K-12 in 2020-2021. The student population grew by 117 to 24,029.

The school district’s special education student population remains steady. District officials said the population would equate the seventh-largest district in the state in 2016-2017. It’s the same for this school year.

The number of students participating in free and reduced meals in the district declined in 2020-2021, the most recent data number available.

Forty-nine percent of the elementary students were enrolled in free and reduced meals in 2019-2020 while 43.3% were enrolled for 2020-2021.

The percentage also decreased in the middle school and high school.

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