By SHAJIA AHMAD
Brad Nading/Telegram Kenny Trieu, dressed in traditional clothing, and his mom, Kim, watch Garden City High SchoolÕs Modern Show Choir perform during the 2010 Vietnamese Tet New Year celebration at Fiesta Courtyard.
Brad Nading/Telegram Junior Moreno, 5, right, waves a Mexican flag in the air as Andrew Moreno, 4, stands in the background in September 2010 while attending the Community Fiesta celebration in Stevens Park. This was the 84th year for the event.
Brad Nading/Telegram Rene Loya, center, holds a sign advocating pro-family immigration reform in May 2010 as he and approximately 500 area residents attend an immigration rally in Stevens Park.
The diversity of its population is a strength.
That statement is one of 11 beliefs of USD 457, where this year more than 40 percent of the 7,600 students district-wide are at varying levels of learning English.
Garden City, a thriving micropolitan community in the heart of southwest Kansas, has adapted to significant economic and social changes over the years.
And the linguistic diversity in the school system — about 3,100 students speak Spanish, Vietnamese, several Burmese languages, Laotian and even Low German, just to name a few of more than a dozen languages — is a microcosm of the community at large.
Government and business leaders have said time and again that Garden City's cultural diversity enriches the community.Juana — better known as 'Janie' — Perkins, a coordinator of supplemental programs at USD 457 and a former Garden City mayor, promotes this view.
"Our diversity is our strength, not only in the school district but community wide, I think a lot of people would agree," Perkins said. "We are more of a global community. ... With communication like the Internet and everything else these days that brings the outside community to us a lot quicker than it used to be. ... We have all become a more global community as we're more aware of what's going on throughout the world. Having this here has helped us understand diversity throughout the world."
According to 2010 Census results, nearly 47 percent of the residents in Finney County identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino of any race, or about 17,200 of the 35,727 reported residents.
The community is "unique" and "different" from other Kansas communities, but very much like Dodge City and Liberal, which boast comparable Hispanic and Latino populations by number.
"We're a transient community because of the workforce and the jobs we have in our community ... with our meat-packing plants and agriculture-related work," Perkins said. "You'll see more families moving in and out, and many of these families are of immigrant background or migratory."
Perkins, who coordinates the English-language learning programs in the school district, said the diversity in the district is a strength to the curriculum and community for a number of reasons.
For one, students are better prepared for the real world as they go on to post-secondary education in other parts of Kansas or even outside the state.
"I've heard from students who have gone on to universities, and they're well prepared for that. They've seen it all here and for them (in their new community) it's not anything knew unlike students from smaller communities for some of whom it takes some adjustments," Perkins added.
By the numbers
Total population: 36,776
One race: 35,727 or 97.1 percent
* White: 28,304 or 77 percent
* Black or African-American: 841 or 2.3 percent
* American Indian and Alaska Native: 336 or 0.9 percent
* Asian: 1,237 or 3.4 percent
* Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander: 14
* Some other race: 4,995
Two or more races: 1,049 or 2.9 percent
HISPANIC OR LATINO AND RACE
Hispanic or Latino (of any race: 17,182 or 46.7 percent
Not Hispanic or Latino: 19,594 or 53.3 percent
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census
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