Fatima Sanchez pointed to a location on a globe in front of her, then spun it slowly as she described how the southern portion of the multicolored sphere tipped toward an imaginary sun.
“Right now the southern part of the world is tipped closer toward the sun,” Sanchez, a DeLong Middle School sixth-grader, said Monday during a breakout session from teacher Nick Sirek’s science class. “That’s why it’s warmer there now.”
Sanchez went on to describe how the tilt of the Earth, and not distance, helps account for the seasons different parts of the world experience at different times of the year. Then, after a moment, she smiled and offered further explanation.
“We’re not in summer here right now,” she smiled, a reference to record snowfall and bitter cold temperatures in Eau Claire the past few weeks.
Moments earlier Asenet Pastorello, a bilingual assistant at DeLong, manipulated the globe as she spoke in a mix of English and Spanish to Sanchez. Pastorello works with Latino students who speak Spanish and some of whom English is not their first language.
“Good work,” Pastorello told Sanchez after the student improved her previous score on a quiz. “You did a good job learning the concepts we discussed.”
Such efforts to better educate the Eau Claire school district’s nonwhite students are becoming more commonplace as the district’s population becomes more diverse, school officials said. A Monday night meeting at DeLong was an example of how district officials are attempting to reach out to the parents of those students as well.
That meeting, at which district officials discussed possible changes to elementary school boundaries and related topics, was translated in Spanish, an effort to engage the parents of Latino students who were invited to the session. A similar approach will be taken at a meeting next month aimed at Hmong parents in the district, one of seven such meetings about possible school boundary changes occurring this winter/spring. Monday’s meeting was the third of those.
“Parent involvement is one of the markers of students’ post-secondary success,” said Kim Koller, the district’s executive director of administration. “The more we can engage parents in their children’s educations, the better those outcomes tend to be.”
Such attempts are increasingly important, district officials said, as the number of nonwhite students attending Eau Claire schools grows. According to 2018-19 figures, Asian students make up 9.6 percent of district enrollment while the Hispanic figure is 5.5 percent. Another 5.4 percent of students come from backgrounds of two or more races.
Black students make up 2.6 percent of the student population, Native Americans .6 percent and Pacific islanders .2 percent. Those figures are generally comparable to Eau Claire’s population makeup, according to U.S. census data.
To engage parents of minority students, the district is communicating beyond its normal methods, reaching out to leaders of Hmong and Latino populations, Koller said. Written information increasingly is posted in those languages as well as English, she said.
“We are really trying to tap in to community partnerships” to increase the number of people coming to our meetings and events, Koller said.
Such efforts are needed, given the feedback of parents of schoolchildren in the Eau Claire Latino community, said Mireya Valadez, an advocate for that population locally. Many have described not feeling they understand what is happening in schools, she said.
“Parents have voiced concerns about this,” Valadez said. “What (district officials) think is a regular means of communication does not work for some people.”
Dave Oldenberg, the district’s academic services director, acknowledged communications challenges posed by culture and language differences. To address that, district officials are partnering with community leaders to more fully engage citizens, he said.
“We are learning who to partner with,” Oldenberg said. “We are trying to focus on active versus passive engagement” with those groups.
Valadez credits the district for reaching out to the Latino community and others. District officials meet quarterly with Latinos, she said, and such efforts as a proposed Spanish dual immersion language program and a Hmong history class taught at high schools are signs they are committed to diversity.
“They are asking what are our concerns and how can they improve communication,” Valadez said. “There is dialogue, and that is promising.”