Issaquah School District demographics: Growing by cultures and colors

September 23, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Changing student diversity impacts learning, teaching opportunities

As Issaquah’s population has grown with housing additions in the Issaquah Highlands and Talus, the cultures that make up Issaquah have grown with it.

Today there are more than 26,000 people living in Issaquah and the town is home to dozens of different ethnicities from throughout the world.

Nowhere is its growing diversity more noticeable than in the classrooms of the Issaquah School District.

Global emphasis in the classroom

In the past 10 years Issaquah’s diversity of cultures has grown by leaps and bounds. In 1998 more than 86 percent of the district’s population was white. Today, that number has dropped to 73 percent, according to information from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The number of students that are Asian, black or Hispanic has doubled in most cases.

Much of the increase is due to new families moving into the area for jobs at high tech, medical or aerospace companies who recruit employees from throughout the world.

With an increasingly diverse population, district officials recently revised their mission to help prepare students for the world of education and work beyond the city limits.

The new mission states, “Our students will be prepared for and eager to accept the academic, occupational, personal and practical challenges of life in a dynamic global environment.”

“Our end goal talks about being a responsible citizen,” said Lynn Brogan, director of teaching and learning services for the district. “To do that we have to be able to understand our differences and work together.”

District officials are also re-evaluating requirements, like adding another math credit or requiring foreign language studies for students, making them more competitive in the global economy.

District officials also developed the new requirements based on what former graduates said about their education in the district, Brogan said.

“Former students have said that we prepare them in writing, reading and math and that teachers do teach them about being part of a business,” she said. “But what they all said was that they didn’t have enough of was preparation to work in the global society they suddenly found themselves in.”

One way many schools have already found to counteract this is by sharing cultures in the classroom and at local events.

In the past five years several Issaquah schools have started celebrating diversity with the community by hosting cultural fairs.

The fairs give parents, students and educational professionals an opportunity to learn more about students’ and families’ origins, through reports, presentations, cooking up tasty food, performing traditional dances and providing video or photos of their former countries.

Issaquah High School and Challenger Elementary each held cultural fairs with more than 50 countries represented.

“Our school changed a lot less than other schools. But I can see that the district, as a whole, has become more diverse and that is a great thing,” said Rosann Collins, a Maple Hills Elementary teacher for 11 years. “The beauty of diversity, if you open yourself up to learn and are attentive, is that you’ll transform yourself with knowledge from others.”

Changing educational tools

Requirements and globalization aren’t the only ways diversity is effecting the education today.

A diversified population has also changed the face of curricula, textbooks, computer programs, and even library books.

The former references to students’ names as Dick and Jane are completely gone from textbook materials. In their place are José, Daniella, Merideth, David and Zoe.

District officials go through a lengthy process to determine what products are acceptable for use in the classroom. Foremost is the accuracy, clarity and fundamental skill sets the texts set forth and how well teachers and other district officials believe they will further students’ education.

New materials also undergo an evaluation for gender, ethnic, religious or racial bias, Brogan said.

“To do that we look at the text, the photographs and the words that are used,” Brogan said. “The benefit is that we have materials that embrace the kids we have and our kids are able to see themselves in the material, whether it’s a library book or instructional material.”

Another aspect that has changed is how the district help students who come from other countries learn to speak English.

Students are no longer pulled from the classroom to learn simple English words and societal norms and they are encouraged to build upon their home language, said Heidi LaMare, the district’s English Language Learning (ELL) specialist.

Today, students who are unable to speak English stay in the classroom to learn, LaMare said.

“I think the emphasis on global preparation is a benefit in the classroom,” LaMare said. “Besides helping new students learn English, having kids of another language in the classroom really prepares our other children for the world of work.”

To help facilitate, the district supplies teachers with educational assistants who help the child, to bridge the gaps in their knowledge.

The district’s budget for ELL programs is $599,680, funded by the state and federal governments.

ISD is also adopting Guided Language Acquisition Design for all its students. The program originated in southern California and uses a variety of tools to help students new to English-speaking classrooms learn the language. The program integrates the English language into students’ lives, allowing students to learn the educational vocabulary they need to be successful in school at a quicker rate, LaMare said.

The program also uses group problem solving methods to form answers and arrive at solutions, LaMare said.

For example, during a summer teacher training session at Clark Elementary School, fourth-grade teacher Chelsea Dziedzic directed her students to formulate a short-answer essay about types of erosion.

The group of students used information from their studies to formulate a hypothesis, provide supporting evidence and draw a conclusion together. They also proofread, altered and added additional work to the paragraph as a class so they could incorporate writing into their science lesson.

“It is the best educational practices for all kids based on brain research,” Collins said after her training.

The added bonus is that children use their own background knowledge and culture to help solve problems and children learn there is more than one way to solve a problem, she added.

With a $130,000 donation from the Issaquah Schools Foundation and an additional $300,000 in district funding, 173 teachers underwent the training this summer.

By the numbers

1998-99: 13,566 students

  • American Indian: 0.6 percent
  • Asian: 9.5 percent
  • Black: 1.6 percent
  • Hispanic: 2.3 percent
  • White: 86 percent

2002-03: 14,759 students

  • American Indian: 0.6 percent
  • Asian: 12 percent
  • Black: 1.7 percent
  • Hispanic: 2.8 percent
  • White: 82.9 percent

2006-07:16,115 students

  • American Indian: 0.6 percent
  • Asian: 18.6 percent
  • Black: 2.1 percent
  • Hispanic: 4.4 percent
  • White: 73.9 percent

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One Response to “Issaquah School District demographics: Growing by cultures and colors”

  1. Issaquah- what is your impression? - Seattle and King County Suburbs - Page 3 - City-Data Forum on November 1st, 2011 7:41 pm

    […] When you say it's not very diverse…what are you comparing it to? I am always amazed by the demographics in my kid's classrooms. Lots of Asians for sure and many Europeans. Not many Hispanic or African Americans but for sure, diverse compared to say, Iowa, where I grew up. Issaquah School District demographics: Growing by cultures and colors : The Issaquah Press – N… […]

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