KU once again to study G.C.'s diversity

12/7/2012

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Because of its diversity, Garden City will be the focus of a research study conducted by the University of Kansas, beginning in January.

KU researchers recently were awarded a grant that will allow them to study the impact 30 years of continuous population changes in Garden City have had on local schools, and what that could teach educators in other communities nationwide.

"Garden City was at the forefront of that changing demographic and has been an exemplar, not only of what has happened, but what will continue to happen," Don Stull, KU professor of anthropology, said. "Schools are one of the places in any community where everyone comes together. That's not necessarily true of work, recreation, religion or similar institutions. We'll be able to look at that intersection of school and community and learn a great deal."

Stull has done research about Garden City for the past 25 years, contributing to his expertise about the impact meat and poultry industries have on communities.

"I'll be going back to a very familiar community and one that I'm deeply committed to and engaged with," Stull said.

Since Iowa Beef Processors (IBP) opened in December 1980 in Holcomb (now Tyson Fresh Meats), immigrants from Latin America, southeast Asia and, more recently, Somalia, Ethiopia and Myanmar have relocated to Garden City.

The $40,000 grant awarded by the Spencer Foundation will allow professors Stull and Jennifer Ng, KU associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies, to conduct interviews with teachers, administrators, parents and students, to see how they have approached the cultural shift in terms of meeting the educational needs of Garden City's migrant and refugee students, who collectively speak 21 languages other than English.

"The Spencer Foundation research will afford me the opportunity, along with Jennifer, to spend quite a bit of time in Garden City, focusing specifically on the schools and how administrators, teachers and other staff — how they really are dealing with that growing diversity," Stull said.

The professors' research will enable them to compile and share data with other communities in the nation and Canada that are experiencing similar change.

"Other people have a lot to learn from the insight that will come, so we plan to present aspects of our research at professional conferences that will be attended by practitioners and researchers from across the country. And then we also plan to publish results from the research in academic journals and that's how it will reach policymakers and educational researchers," Ng said, adding that it also is their hope that the research findings will be beneficial to Garden City and its schools.

Stull called Garden City a "micropolitan" community.

"Micropolitan communities are rural, small towns, based largely on agricultural economies, but they experience the kind of social and cultural challenges that metropolitan areas face. So one of the attractive things about Garden City, to researchers like myself, is that there are a lot of really interesting things happening, but they're happening on a scale small enough that you can kind of get your mind around it, you can see it," he said.

Stull said that while their main focus will be on the public school system, they also will work with Garden City Community College and other organizations that work closely with migrant families.

Hector Martinez, Adult Learning Center director at GCCC, said he thinks the research will show that Garden City is progressive when it comes to diversity.

"And it will be great to export that information to other communities across the state and across the nation — that you can accept multicultural diversity to the growth of your community," Martinez said.

Janie Perkins, USD 457 supplemental programs coordinator, said that over the years, the district has employed several programs aimed at helping teachers communicate with second-language learners, who comprise about half of the total student population in the district.

"I think we're very fortunate here. Our school district, we're very prepared. We've had second-language learners for many, many years and our staff has a had a lot of development, as far as second-language learners, and so I feel like we're well prepared to serve different populations," Perkins said.

Additionally, Perkins said the district has the aid of local agencies, such as Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), as well as GCCC, to help it meet the diverse needs of its students.

"We work very closely with the community college that also provides assistance in translating Somali and other languages we may not have in the district," she said, adding that USD 457 also employs translators and a large number of bilingual teachers. "We really try to make our best effort to communicate with the parents as well, so that they can understand, too."

Additionally, Perkins said that through the district's tuition reimbursement program, teachers are encouraged to obtain English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsements, through which they are taught how to communicate with students from other cultures.

"It's so they have a better understanding about the student's background, learning methods," Perkins said.

Perkins said she thinks Garden City's ability to adjust to the influx of multiple cultures over the past three decades has been a community effort.

"I think we're very fortunate that in Garden City, everybody works together really well, all the local agencies. We're all working with the same families, so not only is it a benefit to the families, but it's a benefit to the whole community," she said.

Stull said that in contrast to many other demographically similar communities that he has studied, Garden City is one of only a few that views diversity as something positive.

"Not everybody is happy about it, certainly, but Garden City, as a whole, has met those challenges head on and has seen the growing cultural and linguistic diversity as something to be valued and celebrated," he said.

Stull and Ng will begin doing research in the early part of January, and will make visits to Garden City throughout 2013.

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