Number Of Latino Students Increasing

Advocates push for bilingual teachers, literacy programs and community involvement

The number of Hispanic students in Washington has reached an all-time high, composing the largest ethnic minority and the fastest-growing student population, a study released yesterday shows.

For the first time, students of color exceed 25 percent of K-12 enrollment, with Latinos the largest segment at 10.2 percent, or 102,920 students.

It is the first time Hispanics have made up more than 10 percent of the student population, according to a data analysis yesterday by the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP), a Latino advocacy group.

Overall, the Latino student population has grown 173 percent statewide since 1986, including huge leaps in some Western Washington school districts. In Bellevue, the number of Latino students has increased 680 percent in the past 14 years.

Yesterday in Sunnyside, Latino advocates launched an initiative calling for more bilingual teachers, parent literacy programs and more school and community involvement.

They said state and public support is critical to help more students meet academic standards measured by the Washington Assessment of Student Learning – and ultimately to become more self-sufficient. The group is still refining its proposals.

LEAP, formed two years ago out of concern for the minority achievement gap, based its findings on a recent analysis of October 2000 enrollment reports from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and data from the state Office of Financial Management.

The number of Hispanic students is expected to double by 2020.

“For 20 years, Latino children have been scoring last on state and national tests, and no one’s raised an eyebrow,” LEAP director Ricardo Sanchez said.

“Something very different must be done to help these kids,” he said. “Their numbers are growing. They can’t keep coming last.”

The Latino growth is seen in schools in both Western and Eastern Washington. Federal Way has experienced a 424 percent increase in Hispanic students since 1986. Other districts with large increases over that period include Vancouver (416 percent), Edmonds (413 percent), Kent (370 percent) and Lake Washington (243 percent).

Among LEAP’s findings:

Latinos were the fastest-growing student population, increasing by 6.9 percent from 1999. Blacks were next highest, increasing by 2.7 percent.

Last year, the highest percentage of Hispanic students among Western Washington districts was in Mount Vernon (35 percent), followed by Highline (13.3 percent), Clover Park (10.4 percent) and Seattle (10.4 percent).

The news did not surprise Western Washington educators, who have been grappling with how to help students who often enter school with no English, and whose non-English-speaking parents are often confused and frustrated about how to help them academically.

“There is a general stereotype that Bellevue is an all-white community, but our ethnic population has been growing for more than 10 years – it’s 30 percent now – and Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment,” said Ann Oxrieder, Bellevue district spokeswoman.

Educators and advocates said availability of jobs in the service industry is partly responsible for the growth in Western Washington, while agriculture-based jobs attract Latino families to the Mount Vernon area and Eastern Washington. Many families move to the Seattle area to join friends or relatives, but share apartments in the high-priced housing market, educators said.

“I hope (Latino advocates) get more help; these kids need it,” said Gerard Schultz, principal at Bellevue’s Stevenson Elementary, which this year added English-as-a-second-language math as well as English language classes.

Schultz said that state, federal and other grant money help pay for two bilingual teachers at Stevenson, making the overall ESL student-teacher ratio 70 to 1.

LEAP will hold its first education conference in Olympia Feb. 23-24 to discuss demographic changes and academic achievement.

“We’d like to rename the system K-G – kindergarten through graduation, rather than K-12,” Sanchez said. “This system doesn’t work for these kids. But they’re not stupid; they need help.”P-I reporter Debera Carlton Harrell can be reached at 206-448-8326 or

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