Between 2000 and 2009 New Hampshire’s Latino population grew by 79 percent.
These changes have created new challenges for some New Hampshire schools.
SFX: announcements, and hall noises
Walking through the halls of Nashua South High school, it’s clear where everyone stands. Literally.
Students Talking: This is the Spanish corner, yeah basically yeah this is the Spanish corner, like Dominican, Puerto Rican, right there is the Mexican corner, for real. (Spanish chat fades away, hall SFX continues)
In a very real way, these students represent the shifting demographics in Southern New Hampshire.
Nashua is the city with the most Latinos in one of the whitest states in the Union.
The latest census shows that the Latino population in Nashua has grown by 58 percent since 2000.
Growth like this is tough on schools.
Nationally Latinos have the lowest graduation rates of any ethnicity.
Ana Hageage works with the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group.
She says that there are a lot of factors driving this statistic.
Hageage: One of them is that they ’re low income another is that they have a high representation in the juvenile justice system, or they’re living in a family with a mixed immigration status.
One of the most difficult hurdle for some of these students is that they have to work on improving their English.
Nashua’s English Language Learners department serves about 80 students of various levels.
SFX: Girls reading in English.
Apart from learning English, students say these classes help them make friends.
Girl: It’s like a family, we can talk about anything. Like we basically been through practically the same, like the same thing.
And having friends helps these students want to keep coming to school.
SFX: Lunch room Spanish.
But to graduate, students have to do more than just hang out.
According to Ana Hageage of La Raza some Latinos aren’t in to school because it’s not geared toward them.
Hageage: We see a lot of programs that don’t necessarily address the history of this population and one of the big things is we really need to have a culturally relevant curriculum. So you teach history but you do it with a twist so that it’s relevant to them.
Nashua is doing its best to create bridges to Latino students.
They host college counseling meetings for parents in Spanish and once a year they offer Spanish for Spanish speakers, a literature course aimed at Latinos.
One class in particular at Nashua South is trying to get students to reach over cultural barriers.
In Lisa Yates’ Human Relations class, students work through issues that don’t get talked about elsewhere.
Yates prompts student discussions with a question.
Yates: What are race relations like at Nashua South? Whoever you are at this school.
Chris: In school I think really divided. Because all like the Spanish kids are all in the front of the in front of the doors like in a big crowd, you can’t even walk through them, it’s pretty annoying.
Markus: I feel like everyone just hangs out with their friends. I mean, alright Spanish kids all stand over there, but that’s because that they’re like, they’re all friends with each other.
Assistant Principal Helayne Talbot says that classes like Human Relations are part of a broader effort to foster acceptance and integration among students.
Talbott: We have always been a school that focuses on the culture primarily, the culture and the communication and I think that’s a big part of why we’re so successful.
But success is hard to measure.
Graduation rates might have more to do with economics than culture.
Students from low-income families tend to have worse education outcomes than their better-off peers.
At Nashua South 83 percent of Latinos qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Despite the challenges facing these students, the school’s efforts seem to be getting at something.
According to Department of Education Nashua graduates a higher percentage of its Latinos than the Manchester school district, which has a similarly sized population.
Lisa Yates asked her Human Relations class if the discussions they have had about race have changed the way they think about school and their peers.
Student Hector Ramos chimed in.
Ramos: Just these people.
Yates: so it’s not like therefore the whole school is a safe place and all that…
Ramos: yup, just jus’ feel closer to these people.
It’s a step.
And a step that many New Hampshire schools may be taking in the near future.