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Wisconsin Dells School District hopes to address growing diversity with new position
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Wisconsin Dells School District hopes to address growing diversity with new position

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Wisconsin Dells School District hired a new staff member to provide support to its growing diverse student populations.

The school district’s new cultural liaison Moses Alvarez said he is the “go to person” to provide educational resources and support for the different ethnic groups represented within the school district for grades K-12. Alvarez also will help provide resources for staff to learn more about a cultural background or ethnic group. He started in early August.

According to a copy of the job description, “the cultural liaison serves as an advocate to the school district’s Native American, Hispanic and Spanish-speaking families and students. Other functions include working with school staff to communicate information regarding attendance, grades and athletics as well as work with counselors, mental health and other support staff to meet students and family needs. The position will also help assist the school and district staff with deepening their understanding and responsiveness to Native American, Hispanic and Spanish speaking culture represented in the Wisconsin Dells School District.”

According to Alvarez, 60% of his time will be spent high school, 30% at the middle school and 10% at the elementary schools. Director of Pupil Services Dawn Sine said his role at the elementary school level is to provide consultation to teachers on cultural diversity. The reason for the strong focus on the middle and high school is to help improve the school district’s attendance and graduation rates, Sine said.

Trends show need

Sine said she saw the need for the position after noticing the number of Hispanic and Native American students growing in the school district for the past decade.

Data shows the school district’s Hispanic population has increased since 2007, from 5.4% in 2007 to 20.14% in 2021. Wisconsin Dells School District has the highest percentage of Hispanic students in the CESA 5 region. The school district’s Native American population has remained steady over the past four years but has decreased from 8.8% in 2007 to less than 5% in 2021. The white student population decreased from 83% to 69% from 2007 to 2021. The amount of those who identify as two or more races has increased from 2.87% in 2012 to over 3% in 2011 and has remained steady throughout the past three years.

English language learners made up 9.9% of the student population in 2020, according to the school district’s website. Those numbers grew to 11.2%, which is 193 students. The numbers are up from 5.6% in 2007 or 95 students. The school district now has the highest percentage of English Language Learning students in the CESA 5 region. The school district’s numbers exceed the state average of English Language Learners, which sits at 5.3% while the state average trend has increased by less than 1%.

The trends on both the student population and English Language Learners was presented at the May 24 school board meeting by the school district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Grove in his reports. The information is also online in the board education materials in Agenda Manager by clicking on the meetings tab, searching for the May 24 meeting, clicking on education reports and the administrator reports links.

“I think one of the things we continually look at is how do we support all students how do we recognize just the needs of all students and ensuring all students needs are being met,” Sine said. She added other larger school districts have similar positions. Alvarez said similar positions helped him while in college at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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Student needs foremost

Alvarez said the duties of his position will adjust as the student population changes and depending on the needs of the students. He will also help provide background and subject material, as well as lining up speakers, for classrooms studying lessons for students to learn more about a certain culture or background, he said.

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While he’s been in the position for under a month, Alvarez said school district staff is requesting his help with assistance in providing resources for classes on history and science that touch on cultural topics to help all students better understand those lessons.

Sine said the position supports the school district’s mission statement as well embrace the school district’s diversity while setting high academic standards for students. The position also provides support for families and staff, she said.

“Part of embracing our diversity is being knowledgeable and aware of that and that is the key piece that ensuring all of our kids have that connection with our staff,” Sine said. “So it’s continued adult learning about how we meet the needs of all students within our district and I think Moses brings an important really key part of making sure our students of different cultures are understood and welcomed.”

Sine said the school district had a similar position less than a decade ago to provide support to its Native American student population. The position was funded by grant funding at the time. Alvarez’s position is also funded through a series of federal and state grants as well as ESSER funding from federal COVID-19 relief money, Sine said.

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Alvarez said his role will not only address the needs of the Native American and Hispanic student population, as well as other minority ethnic groups, but all races represented within the school district.

“It’s all students it’s not just any students of color,” Alvarez said.

Sine agreed.

“It’s really about how do we become inclusive,” Sine said.

Alvarez graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School in 2011. He majored in criminal justice with emphasis in sociology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While in college, he discovered sociology after volunteering and recognized it was the right career path for him.

“I just loved serving people and that’s just kind of like how my career path developed,” Alvarez said.

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Before he took the job at Wisconsin Dells School District, Alvarez said he worked at a summer camp with the Diocese of Madison. He also worked at Lutheran Social Services in the Wisconsin and upper Michigan area, where he worked and mentored people of all ages, from elementary school to adults. He also worked as a social worker for the Ho-Chunk Nation and decided to apply for the position at the Wisconsin Dells School District to give back to his community.

“I never thought I would be working for a school when I was younger but when the opportunity arised I thought it was an opportunity to help my local community,” he said. Alvarez is also the golf coach at the high school, a position he’s held for five years.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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