Diversity a Strength, Challenge for GI Schools


For the first time in Grand Island history, most of the kids attending school are children of color. And as diverse as our schools have become, some things don't change.

You see it at the mall, or in the hallways of Grand Island Senior High. Kids in many ways are all the same – they get on their phones and Facebook and text each other. Kids are kids.

Kris Burling agrees. "Kids are kids, have kid issues, have kid celebrations and that's exactly right."

Burling is Director of English Language Acquisition for Grand Island Public Schools, and was an elementary school principal prior to that.

She said, "I don't know that I have been in a community that has been so open to education parents and students, that's all parents and students."

Amna Millewa graduated from high school in Indiana and moved to Grand Island with her Sudanese family. Her younger siblings attend school in Grand Island, and she likes that schools here try to connect with families.

She said, "I really like that because my sister will go there, she comes back with paperwork that involves the whole family and it doesn't finish at school, education continues for families as well."

Burling said that's key in a school district where minorities are more than half of the school population.

She said, "Parents – we really have to educate them on what opportunities are beyond going to elementary school, middle school, high school."

But Carlos Barcenas, head of the Grand Island Multicultural Coalition points out many families from Latin America simply don't know what opportunities exist.

He said, "You graduated, there's graduation but there's parents that it's not part of their culture so little things you have to educate and let them know."

Amna said the same can be true of other cultures.

"Part of the Sudanese culture is men take care of the family, so a lot of times people don't graduate because maybe the family doesn't know English so children learn English quicker so they have to be a leader in the home, making sure bills are paid," she said.

From there the conversation turned to Grand Island's new Career Pathways Institute.

It's a first of its kind school to train kids for the workforce in careers like welding, logistics, and drafting.

Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Johnson said, "We have businesses that are in need of workers. We have a school system interested in ensuring all kids have a quality education and high graduation rate as possible and it seems like such a logical marriage."

"Absolutely, it's very, very exciting and as Cindy said, getting kids actually certified to go into different positions before they graduate high school is unbelievable," Kris Burling added.

Carlos Barcenas said he hopes parents and students take advantage of all the public schools offer.

He said, "That's one of the biggest concerns of the Spanish–speaking community, how do we engage parents to push their kids?"

Grand Island Public Schools is a partner with the University of Nebraska - Lincoln in a program to help those who are the first generation to go to college.

Burling said programs like that are working.

"What we're seeing is a lot of encouragement for kids to apply and go on to college and that's exciting," she said.

For our panelist Amna, she's getting a college education her parents could only dream of. "Coming to America, we have been given a great opportunity for education," she said.