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Demographic changes, overcrowding in HISD

By Romina Kim
Daily Cougar Staff

A steady increase in the number of students is causing problems for the Houston Independent School District, a school district official said Wednesday.

"The consequences to us is that it creates incredible overcrowding that occurs and has compounded over the years," Max Beauregard, senior demographic specialist for HISD, said in a presentation on the district's demographics.

Travis Howell/The Daily Cougar

HISD senior demographic specialist Max Beauregard, right, gave details of the school district's demographic data Wednesday at the Federal Reserve Bank downtown.

About 210,000 students are enrolled in HISD. The district encompasses 300 square miles -- nearly half the city of Houston's 617 square miles.

Beauregard said the overcrowding is most noticeable in elementary schools, some of which enroll more than 1,000 students. Anderson Elementary in Southwest Houston is one of the best examples: it, like many of the schools, was designed to accommodate 750 students. Anderson now has 1,570.

The excessive enrollments become apparent in crowded cafeterias and a lack of rest room facilities.

"It is an environment where you don't have an intimate environment for toddlers and preschoolers, and principals and parents," Beauregard said.

The student population of HISD has also changed demographically over the years. Beauregard said the Hispanic population has sometimes risen by as much as 5 percent each year, but that number has evened out to around 2 or 3 percent growth. Students of Mexican descent are the largest minority group in HISD, accounting for 8 percent of the total enrollment.

Asian-Americans account for 4 percent of HISD students, a number that is increasing dramatically. In all, over 85 countries are represented by at least 10 students per country.

That diversity has led to language barriers between some students and teachers.

"It creates a difficult classroom environment where you have children from a variety of backgrounds that you're trying to teach," Beauregard said.

However, not all language obstacles come from foreign students.

"There's a notion that immigrants are the ones that don't speak English," Beauregard said. "But a lot of these kids are second-generation immigrants that are born here and still don't speak English."

With regard to economic indicators, Beauregard said the only one available from within HISD is its free lunch program.

"Districtwise, 71 percent of the elementary-level kids are on free lunch," he said. "This becomes a stigma at the middle and high school level, so participation is lower at those grades."

Nevertheless, he said the figures give some idea of the socio-economic status of families living in HISD. "If that percentage is taking advantage of the free lunch program, they are having financial problems," Beauregard said.

HISD statistics also show that, although the district's student population is growing steadily, a noticeable number of students leave school and don't return.

The reason, Beauregard said, is that many families move frequently to look for cheaper housing. Therefore, children in those households change schools often -- sometimes outside the district.

"This has a very dramatic effect on the neighborhood schools," he said.

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