SALT LAKE CITY—Non-Hispanic white students are now a minority in the Salt Lake School District and the Ogden schools are close to also having minorities in the majority.
Fifty-one percent of Salt Lake students are minorities. They speak 82 different languages and are from nearly 100 different countries.
“I will have to check my numbers, but I think I have as many Muslims as Mormons,” said John Erlacher, principal of Mountain View Elementary.
Students at Mountain View speak 23 different languages. They are from Liberia, Afghanistan, Iran, Tonga, Cambodia, Vietnam and many other countries. Minorities make up 86 percent of the student body.
Erlacher said some children attending the school have been slaves in other countries, have watched family members get killed and have been victims of violence due to extreme poverty and war.
“It’s hard to teach kids who have never experienced a restroom, let alone indoor plumbing,” Erlacher said.
But he said he can’t think of a better place to work. Ogden has a 49 percent minority rate and that is expected to surpass 50 percent next year.
But Salt Lake City is not the first district in the state to hit 50 percent.
Fifty-six percent of San Juan School District pupils are minority students, primarily Utes from the White Mesa Reservation and Navajos.
According to 2003 enrollment figures, the minority numbers in other Utah districts trail by substantial margins. Granite was at 28 percent, Murray 16 percent and Jordan and Davis had slightly more than 9 percent.
Nancy McCormick, principal of Salt Lake City’s Escalante Elementary, which has 72 percent minorities, said, “We don’t really even notice it. If you stop and look at the faces, you will see 20 shades from white to brown, but they are all here to learn.”
She said Escalante emphasizes respect for differences, which gets students interested in other children’s background, creating prime learning opportunities.
In classes they learn about different religions, clothing, customs and history, all from the firsthand experiences of other students.
“It really gives kids a world view and gives them a broader view of what America is,” McCormick said.
However, communication is a major hurdle in many of the Salt Lake City schools.
At some, nearly half the pupils are classed as English as a Second Language students or English language learners, and English often is not spoken in their homes.
Jason Olsen, spokesman for Salt Lake District, said the district requires that all new teachers be qualified in dealing with English as a Second Language students.
“We’ve seen schools jump from just a few teachers to 100 percent of their teachers being ESL-endorsed, and that’s significant,” Olsen said.