The city of Lansing is known for its diverse population and its school district is no exception. According to the Lansing School District, nearly 70 countries are represented among its population of students.
Lansing’s population has played a key role in determining what the school district needs to have available. In 2016, there was a need for change and the district established a Welcome Center which now provides parents with a central location to begin enrollment and learn about other resources in the the community.
With nearly 51 different native languages spoken within the student population, according to the district, its Welcome Center contains a Bilingual Resource Center.
“When new students come into the district that speak a native language other than English, they come here to the Welcome Center located on the south side of Lansing for enrollment and also for an intake,” said Trisha watson, community outreach specialist for the district. “During this process the parents actually go in the enrollment office and they are assisted with enrolling their students. We usually have interpreters available that speak the family’s native language.”
According to Winton, while the parents are doing the enrollment process the students are assessed with an English assessment and with a math assessment if they are in middle of high school to see where they need to be placed when they actually are enrolled in school.
One feature of Lansing that contributes to its diversity in the classroom is its rate of refugees. According to the Refugee
Development Center, the Lansing area has between 400 and 700 refugees each year. Although enrolling refugee children in public schools may propose challenges, many children are able to attend public schools.
To minimize the challenge, Winton says that the Refugee Development Center works with the district as a community partner. The Refugee Development Center works with families after they enroll their students and do an orientation about schools, the American school system, bus stops and more said Winton.
“(The Refugee Development Center) are more of the social aspect. We are an education system. They do home visits,” Winton said. “They assist with things like helping with DHS, hygiene issues, acclimating them to different aspects of the American school culture. They do help, that is why they are an amazing partner with us because everything that we are not able to provide, they provide.”
Beyond just community partners and resources at the administrative level, there are also efforts implemented within the schools themselves to promote diversity. Cavanaugh Elementary teacher Kelly Johnson says one of the programs they have implemented in the district to think about diversity and relationships is called Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (CR-PBIS).
“We try to keep culture of students in mind when responding to behavioral concerns. Building relationships with families and students is a priority. We have positive reward systems in place to keep kids engaged and wanting to come to school. We teach expectations and procedures frequently, so kids know exactly what to expect.”
Eastern High School senior Tyler Sauceda says he as noticed a lot of diversity in the student population and also the assistance provided for students during school.
“There are a couple clubs that help with inclusion. Then there are some special teachers that help with that as well,” Sauceda said. “If they are trying to understand the language they will help them understand it and tell them the word in English.”
Director for Michigan State University’s Office for International Students and Scholars James Dorsett says that having exposure to differences and different types of people, at all levels of education, is generally a good thing for students.
Dorsett said that for a student who may come from a very homogeneous situation, learning more about different perspectives can be beneficial for both the minority and the majority.
“Having people of diverse backgrounds in a classroom setting enables the instructor, the professors, the teacher, whomever, to say okay here is an issue and let’s talk about it,” Dorsett said. “If you have some people from other countries and they can contribute and say, well, this is how we look at the problem in my country or this is my personal experience based on coming from a situation where things were very different.”
“You get a classroom very often if everybody is from the same area and grew up similarly can, though that is not a guarantee, tend to have the same or very similar outlooks on problems and issues,” Dorsett said. “Though having people look at things the same way does make things easier, you do not always come up with the best solutions to things.”
Lewton Global Studies/Spanish Immersion Magnet school in the district provides children a unique learning environment that also includes learning the Spanish language. The school is based on global themes.
“Our mission is to develop global citizens and there some different, kind of, key parts to that. Language development is a key part of that but there are also some others we call habits of mind,” Lewton Global Studies/Spanish Immersion Principal Tom Buffet said.
According to Buffet, there are two different pathways students do at Lewton. The Spanish immersion path consist of students spending half of their day learning content in Spanish. The other path, consist of Spanish three days a week and is a much less intensive Spanish experience according to Buffet.
Buffet says that using and embracing different languages to students at a young age helps build global citizens.
“People often develop judgments to the things that seem strange so part of the advantage of learning language is to reveal some of the rich diversity of the world,” Buffet said. “Therefore, help future generations engage each other in ways that are more positive and beat some of the negative judgments that often accompany people who do not know about other cultures and languages.”
Lewton Elementary teacher Marynia Lorencen says she has a reason to stay in the field and embrace teaching.
“It sounds trite but I love my kids,” Lorencen said. “It’s the kids. The kids are the reason that I get up and go to work in the morning. And it just kinds of transcends the political climate because you know, you’re dealing with helping little kids figure out what they want to do. It is the best part for me.”
While there is evidence that the school district is making strides to better support its diverse community with newly implemented programs, language immersion school and community partners, some people in the area still feel that local schools could still improve. Action of Greater Lansing’s Educational Task Force has been working to get more federal funds available to the schools.
“I’m concerned with the kids whose English is their second language,” Action of Greater Lansing Educational Task Force chair Michele James said. “That is another factor we have to look out for as well. I think a lot of people think,
oh it should just be kids who are quote on quote U.S. citizens and speak English. But there is a large immigrant population in the Lansing community that we need to consider too.”