Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Influx of Hispanics brings demand for bilingual teachers, health-care workers

S.C. has nation’s largest increase in percentage of Hispanic population

By Anna Simon | Greenville Online
May 1, 2008

South Carolina leads the nation in the percentage increase in the Hispanic population, according to new U.S. Census information for 2007.

The state’s Hispanic population increased 8.7 percent, adding 13,569 residents from 2006.

Hispanics make up 3.83 percent of the state’s population, up from 3.59 percent a year ago and 2.37 percent in 2000.

The increase has led to a demand for new and expanded services ranging from bilingual classroom teachers to emergency room interpreters.

"A bilingual person is golden in any capacity," said Pat Mitchell, executive director of human resources for Greenville County Schools.

The influx in Hispanic students "places that much more demand on the need for teachers qualified to teach these students in a market that’s already tight," Mitchell said.

As a result, the district recruits Spanish teachers from nations including Spain and Costa Rica, Mitchell said.

Under an agreement between the state Department of Education and the Spanish government, 21 teachers from Spain are teaching foreign language courses in 11 South Carolina school districts this year, said Jim Foster, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Greenville County School’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program also has grown -- tenfold -- from fewer than 500 students 10 years ago to more than 5,000 students today, and is the state’s largest in terms of enrollment, said Eve Diaz, program coordinator. Greenville has the most residents overall among the state’s 46 counties.

In 1998, the school district had fewer than 10 people designated to work only with English language learners. Today there are more than 100 personnel -- teachers and assistants -- who work at least part of a day, and some full time with the program, Diaz said.

The program’s growth is fueled by an expanding international population and also recent federal and state mandates such as No Child Left Behind that broaden the definition of who is served and for how long, Diaz said.

Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center also is actively recruiting bilingual employees.

The hospital is recruiting employees in registration and clinical areas in particular and also is increasing its language services staff to better serve the Upstate’s growing Hispanic communities, said Sandy Dees, a hospital spokeswoman.

"We are reaching out to minority vendors to help expand opportunities to work with GHS, and we are expanding our community outreach programming into the Hispanic community," Dees said. "We are covering a broader range of initiatives to better meet the needs."

While South Carolina has seen the nation’s largest percentage increase in Hispanic residents, the actual number of Hispanic residents -- 168,920 -- is relatively small compared to some other areas, according to the census figures.

The Hispanic populations of California and Texas grew by a larger number of people than South Carolina’s total Hispanic population. California’s Hispanic population grew by 267,779 people in 2007, and the Hispanic population in Texas grew by 307,782.

The increasing Hispanic population impacts personal life as well as professional life for Diaz, who came to Greenville in 1996 from the international climate of Miami, Fla. At that time she could spend an afternoon shopping at Haywood Mall and never hear a word of Spanish -- her own native tongue. Now she can hear Spanish spoken within minutes of entering the mall.

Diaz said Greenville’s growing foreign presence -- Hispanics and also people from other nations employed by companies, such as BMW and Michelin -- adds richness to life for all who live here.

"When we have students who speak another language at home, it can only enrich the overall classroom experience," Diaz said. "The world is shrinking with technology. It is even more important to be exposed to different cultures and people at a younger age. There is going to be a lot more sharing and diversity in the world that they grow up in."

At the same time, she’s aware that not everyone welcomes the growing numbers of Hispanic residents.

"Any time there’s any minority group that is different, there are always going to be incidents, things that occur that are reactionary," Diaz said. "I believe that the presence of foreign international population has helped Greenville and will continue to help Greenville."

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