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A melting pot of cultures

Posted 9/23/14 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

Eight years ago, pretty much all of the students attending Watford City Elementary School had one thing in common. They were born and raised in McKenzie County. Watford City Elementary School students reflected the population of the county - they were primarily of Norwegian heritage and were virtually all Caucasian.
Today, the 700+ students at the elementary school still reflect the demographics of the county. But the county’s demographics have radically changed with the oil boom.
And with students from 49 of this nation’s states, as well as 20 different foreign countries attending Watford City Elementary School this year, the school is a microcosm of who is now living and working in and around Watford City. How many schools can boast about that unique statistic?
According to Watford City Elementary School Principal Brad Foss, these numbers and this specific information came directly from the children’s registration paperwork for enrollment for the 2014-15 school year; an enrollment of over 700 children!
According to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, 598 students were enrolled in the 2013-14 school year. That number increased by approximately 122 students just in one year! And just by looking at the trend over the past three years, our enrollment will continue to increase.
The only state not presently represented within our elementary school is New Hampshire. Some of the countries that are embodied in this count include Egypt, China, Israel, Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and many more, just to name a handful.
“This creates such a unique dynamic to this school,” states Foss. “We have kids that have actually lived in these other places, experienced it, and who can now bring that experience back to the classroom to share with others.”
These children are not only coming from various geographies, but come with a multitude of different human cultures and traditions. These kids can say, “Hey, I lived there, I know that place, this is how it was there.” Personal experience and the ability to talk about it physically in the classroom is not a benefit every school is  endowed with.
According to a group of fifth grade students at Watford City Elementary School, each of their families moved here for the sole purpose of work and increased income for their families.
When asked what he thinks is bringing all of these families to Watford City from places as far away as Egypt and Turkey, Foss stated, “It’s definitely the oil boom and the jobs that have brought people here. I don’t know if people really understand or realize how our economy is on the plus-side when not a lot of other places are.”
When asked what his family came to Watford City for, fifth-grader Aidan Kline, whose family is from Missouri stated, “we didn’t have enough money, so we came here, and both of my parents are working.”
This is the first year attending Watford City Elementary School for the majority of students interviewed. For some, it was their second year and for one, she’s been here for six or seven years and her family came from the Philippines.
“We are working on a pipeline, that’s why we came here,” said Stormi Ivy, another fifth grade student from Texas.
The majority of these fifth-graders said they liked their new school here in Watford City, and all of them unanimously agreed that it has been easy making friends here. Although, there were a variety of differences from Watford City Elementary School as opposed to their old schools.
“In Mexico, fifth-graders go to a different school, but not here. We attended two classes in the morning and then school ended at noon and we’d go back the next day for the next two classes because there were just so many people,” said fifth-grader Ismael Morales, who came from Mexico with his family.
Another fifth-grader, Weijie Jiang, whose family moved here from New York stated, “Back home we only had one recess and it was lunch. And school ended earlier back home. But have you seen the bathrooms here? They are really clean! They didn’t clean that much at my old school.”
According to Foss, the number of students who are part of ELL (English Language Learners) in the elementary school went from about 50 last year to approximately 80 this year! To adhere to the increase in ELL children and in making sure these children’s needs are successfully met, there will be two full-time translators on staff at Watford City Elementary School. One translator is currently working on-staff, while the second one is completing the process and will be full-time, upon finishing.
According to one teacher at Watford City Elementary School, she hasn’t really seen any obstacles with children speaking another language. She says most of these kids have English as a primary or secondary language.
“Overall, there isn’t a great deal of concern at this point because elementary staff isn’t seeing a great deal of problems or concerns in this area,” says one teacher.
With a thriving economy in Watford City that continues to flourish and develop, we can only anticipate that these numbers, 49 and 20, will only continue to increase, and that is a wonderful fact to be proud of! Watford City Elementary School seems to have a great handle on the influx of children enrolling into the school and has approached the vast amount of change with not only a positive attitude, but a willingness to be open-minded. Let’s see what next year has in store for us!