Schuyler, a Nebraska community of just over 6,000 people, has grown in the last two decades from a primarily Caucasian demographic to a diverse community. The community’s school system has adjusted to the growth in population and diversity in the community’s Latino population.
Trina de Leon, a retired paraeducator who came to Schuyler in 1993, remembers the community growing more diverse as a result of a meat processing plant being established right outside of Schuyler. Cargill opened in 1969 and needed employees. When de Leon worked at Cargill, she said there was only a small portion of Latinos. She said she believes it was around 1996 when the plant started to see an influx of Latinos from Guatemala and Mexico. The new employees brought their families and started to settle into Schuyler.
In 2000, Schuyler was a town of about 5,000 residents, and the majority of members were Caucasian. According to the Schuyler 2000 Census, there were 1039 students in all Schuyler schools.
“The change that I saw was a substantial increase in student population year after year on average,” Robin Stevens said.
Stevens used to work as the superintendent at Schuyler Community Schools from 2000 to 2013. According to Nebraska’s Department of Education, he was elected to represent the 7th District of the Nebraska State School Board in 2018.
“We would gain about 50 students per year,” he said.
The increase of students coming into kindergarten started to take a toll. De Leon remembers when she started working at North Ward Elementary around 2004. “We had a big influx of Latinos coming in, and we didn’t have the space,” she said. “So that’s when they started bringing in those trailers that they had out there.”
North Ward needed space. A total of four trailers were added to make up the space needed for these new students.
A plan was devised to build a new school for K-3. North Ward Elementary was changed to a preschool. Schuyler Elementary School was constructed just outside the edge of town. It started as a K-3 school when it opened in 2009 but expanded a couple of years after to include K-5.
Schuyler Central High School changed as well. Around 2020, the high school was expanded with a new cafeteria and theatre to make more room for students. The new cafeteria is more than half of what the old cafeteria used to hold.
Recently, there are different obstacles that Schuyler schools now face.
“We’ve started to run into problems where the kids speak English,” Bill Comley said. Comley became the principal of the elementary school in 2013 and is currently there. “They’ve lost their home language of Spanish, and they cannot communicate with their parents.”
To help parents, Schuyler has introduced dual language classes for K-1. These dual language classes have teachers who speak both English and Spanish and teach students how to read, write and speak in both languages.
Another challenge when it comes to improving the lives of these children is having to work around Cargill. Communication with parents is different. Parents work at the plant and may work during the morning, afternoon, or night.
“Our parents are very hard working, but I think sometimes we always assume that the parent is there, but the parents are working,” Comley said. Schuyler schools have adapted to different types of communication channels with parents. Announcements are made on the school website in Spanish and English. Interpreters at school are readily available in case they are needed for parent-teacher conferences.
Additionally, Comely has also found success in hiring new employees.
“The board has allowed us to hire Spanish-speaking only adults that currently work in the school,” Comley said.
Eight Spanish-speaking assistants, as of right now, help paraeducators. They take English classes, and a few have become fluent in both languages already.
“I’ve been lucky to retain them,” Comley said.
Superintendent Daniel Hoesing has looked into other types of communication channels.
“We’re just moving into a system called Rooms, and it’s part of our school app,” Hoesing said. “I can send out something in English, and it comes to their phones or their computers in their language, and they can type a response in their language.”
When it gets back to Hoesing, it will come back in English.
As of right now, Hoesing plans to strive to help students with more. Hoesing takes suggestions from parents and teachers each year during the school’s strategic planning to see what schools can do better on.
“We have to continually try to be a school that looks at how do we meet the needs of our kids, not just how do we meet the requirements of the state,” Hoesing said. “We want to not be satisfied with where we are.”