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The changing landscape of ASD: Part 1

By Alexis Fernandez 7:04 AM February 26, 2014

Minorities now make up more than 50 percent of the student population.

ANCHORAGE – English, Spanish, Yup’ik, Hmong, Somali, Nepalese and Pidgin.

That’s only a fraction of the languages spoken across the Anchorage School District, making it one of the most diverse in the country, according to U.S. Department of Education.

Since the inception of Alaska’s statehood, the faces of our cities and schools have been changing steadily, with families arriving from all over the world.

To see and hear diversity at its best, you don’t have to travel far. Just walk the halls of Bartlett High School, where you’ll find students from all different backgrounds in one place.

Tina Bernoski, one of the counselors who oversees the English Language Learners Program, sees the change firsthand.

“That minority is becoming the majority, and so it’s great, it’s fabulous, I love it,” Bernoski said.

She says the Hmong, Samoan and South Sudanese communities have grown significantly, and it’s become a different landscape.

Bartlett is now one of the most diverse high schools in the country.

Nearly one third of its 1,500 students speak a second language at home. Across the school district, 93 languages are spoken.

The top two: Spanish and Hmong.

Minorities now make up more than 50 percent of the student population. But with that comes new challenges.

“The magnitude of issues — it’s not just about breaking up, which is a serious issue for many of these kids — but they saw a parent be killed in front of them, they’re homeless, there are drug issues, they’re pregnant, they have no food on the table,” Bernoski said.

Because of this, she said counselors are becoming crucial.

“They’re doing the best they can, sometimes don’t know how to do it, and we just need to help them find that better life,” she said.

So when did families start moving to Alaska and why?

It’s a question Virgene Hanna tries to answer each year. She helps publish a yearly data book called Kids Count about Alaska’s youth. Hanna said a wide range of people started migrating in 2008 when the country hit a recession.

“Economic opportunity — Alaska has jobs and people are coming, they want economic opportunity for themselves and their families,” Hanna said.

She believes it’s a change we should embrace.

“Different people bring different assets and different perspectives, and it broadens our society,” Hanna said.

It’s Alaska’s next generation.

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