The changing face of Rochester - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

By Fanna Haile-Selassie

The changing face of Rochester


Rochester, Minn. (KTTC) --

The 2010 census shows Rochester added more people in the last decade than any other Minnesota city, making it the third largest. If you look at little closer, Rochester would not have grown so much if it wasn't for the huge increase in the minority population, with some race groups more than doubling.

Rochester has become an immigration destination, mainly for its job opportunities, Mayo Clinic, IBM, and because we have a strong refugee population. The minority now makes up 20% of the city's population, and there's no better example of this change than in the Rochester school district.

Riverside Elementary school is an anomaly in the Rochester Public School district. You'll find a roughly 50-50 split between white and minority students. But assistant principal Chad Schroeder thinks this anomaly will soon become the standard.

"This is a perfect example of what our school, our school district, our city, our state and the nation will be becoming in the next 5, 10, 15 years," exclaims Schroeder.


The minority student population in the Rochester school district is at about 31%. It's a stark difference compared to 10 years ago when it was about 19%, and 20 years ago it was roughly 9%.

Sam Ouk is the ESOL coordinator for the district. He says much of the change is from immigrants Currently, the student body includes kids from 79 different countries, who speak 69 different languages.

"A large number of our immigrant students are refugee students. So a lot of them had disrupted education or very little education at all back in their home country. So not only do they have to cope with learning a new language, but also cope with the culture and then expectations of the education system," says Ouk.

One way the school district eases immigrant students into a new way of life is through its three newcomer classrooms, at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Since January of 2010, Rochester Public Schools added nearly 200 new students to its newcomer program, many of them refugees from around the world. The newcomers class is a full-day, English immersion program, focusing on American culture and school expectations.

"They can really grow at their own level and not feel like they're dumb or they're stupid or anything. It helps give them the skills they need, and yet keeps their confidence level high," explains Ouk.

Schroeder is well aware of the immigrant trend and so are the teachers. They are constantly updating their approach and teaching style to reach all of their students.

"We have to reach out to different resources to make it so that they can feel connected to the learning that they're doing within the building," explains Schroeder.

All around the school, you'll find international connections, like this book. It's half in English, half Somali.

For these international students, the biggest connection they make in this classroom is with each other... accepting the different faces and blending the colors to prepare themselves for their new home.

The minority growth rate shows no signs of slowing down, and for some city officials, that's the best news we can hope for as we enter the age of retiring baby boomers. But are our minority students ready to enter the work force? And what happens if they're not?

We continue our coverage into the changing face of Rochester Sunday night at 10 o'clock on Newscenter.

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