There are a growing number of minorities in traditionally majority-white school corporations in Lake and Porter counties, in line with the growing number of minorities in those communities.
As a result, some school corporations are trying to hire minority teachers and have developed diversity clubs where interested students can get to know one another and make others feel welcome.
Valparaiso schools Superintendent Ric Frataccia said from the time he first began working in Valparaiso in the early 1990s to today, he sees a difference.
"I think that folks value Valparaiso as a community, and I think people from diverse backgrounds value Valparaiso," he said.
"There is less trepidation about Valparaiso than there was 25 years ago when I first came. It's more inviting. Our free- and reduced- (lunch) rate is 28 percent. Twenty-five years ago when I was a principal in Valparaiso, we worried about the rate not being high enough to be funded (with federal money). In some schools, it was well under 10 percent. There is more growth among Hispanics than blacks."
That corresponds with numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, which estimates Valparaiso's population at 32,626, an increase of 2.8 percent from the 2010 census. Of that number, the census bureau estimates an increase in the Hispanic population at 7.1 percent and the black population at 3.3 percent.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, in the 2015-16 school year, Valparaiso Community Schools were 80.1 percent white, 10.2 percent Hispanic and 3.5 percent black. That's compared to the 2005-06 school year when the district was 87.5 percent white, 4.1 percent Hispanic and 2.9 percent black.
Valparaiso High School Principal Reid Amones said there are twice as many Hispanic students as there are blacks at the high school. He said there are a handful of Asian students and multiracial students.
"The number of minority families has grown over the years," he said. "We don't have a lot of housing starts in the $100,000 to $150,000 range; most families have been here for a while and are vested in the community. Once they come, they stay."
Amones said the school district has been working with the Great Lakes Equity Center in Indianapolis for the last few years. "We have a professional staff at the district that is representative of families and community members. Close to 15 percent of our staff — teachers, secretaries and counselors — are minority," he said.
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, who was first elected in 2003, said the growth in minorities is a significant trend, not just in Valparaiso, but also other communities across the country. He said experts have projected that in 2050, whites will be a minority in Valparaiso based on many factors including birth rates and migration.
"We'd like to get ahead of the trends and be progressive rather than reactive, so we created the Human Relations Council in 2008 to find ways to be a more welcoming community and help citizens to assimilate into the community," he said.
Costas said Valparaiso is an attractive community for many reasons, including the housing, the strong employment base, the great public schools and low crime.
In the Duneland School Corp. the majority of students in 2015-16 were white at 82.6 percent, 10.5 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black. That's compared with 2005-06 when there were 91.3 percent white students, 4.4 percent Hispanic and 0.7 percent, or 38 students, who were black.
Chesterton High School Principal Jeff Van Drie, who is in his 11th year as principal, said the minority population has doubled in the school, with 2,021 students in ninth through 12th grade.
"We have been very intentional in trying to ensure that everyone feels included and part of the school," he said.
In the last three years, administrators have revised the structure of student government, requiring there be a member from every student club on its House of Representatives, he said. He said the high school has 81 clubs — including a multicultural club, a pride club and a Bible club.
"We represent every type of person. We took a big step forward to ensure that everyone feels they have representation," Van Drie said.
"We feel that students become more involved in school by being involved in athletics and clubs. It helps break down barriers and makes for a more cohesive climate. We want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and included."
Portage schools Superintendent Richard Weigel said the community's diversity is part of what makes Portage Township Schools the great district it is.
"We love our kids and how they work together, help each other and care about each other. Portage Proud," he said.
Portage Township School Board Vice President Cheryl Oprisko said she is not surprised the minority community in the school corporation has grown, and it's what she sees in the community.
"We have an A-rated school district. We're a very attractive district and community," she said.
"This is happening not just in Portage but across the country. It's changing, and it's a good thing. We have increased our English as a second language program. The superintendent is diligently trying to change the staff. The population is changing faster than we can change the staff. We are looking to hire to match our student population, and it's very important to do that."
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Portage's population in 2015 at 36,738, a drop of 0.2 percent from 2010. Since 2010, the Hispanic population in Portage has increased an estimated 16.4 percent while the black population increased by 7.3 percent.
Similar changes across county line
The town of Munster had an estimated population in 2015 of 22,984 people, down 2.6 percent from 2010, according to the U.S. Census bureau. However, there was an estimated increase in the number of Hispanics in 2010 to 10.2 percent and an increase in the black population to 3.5 percent.
Similarly, the School Town of Munster had a varied population with 59.7 percent white, 21.8 percent Hispanic, 7.6 percent Asian, 6.6 percent black and 4.2 percent multiracial in the 2015-16 school year. Ten years ago, students were 77.6 percent white, 8.5 percent Hispanic, 7.3 percent Asian, 3.4 percent black and 3.2 percent multiracial.
Munster schools Superintendent Jeffrey Hendrix acknowledges the school district's white population has gone down slightly, but notes it has a diverse population.
"The greatest equalizer in the world is the ability to get a quality education. It has been proven that the more education one attains the more money one could potentially earn," he said.
"That is why it is extremely important that K-12 public schools provide opportunities for all students to become college- and career-ready, and that will allow students to be accepted into great colleges and universities."
Hendrix said the school corporation has not added any minority teachers or administrators yet. "We do have a STAND club, and we added an LGBT club," he said.
Hanover schools Superintendent Tom Taylor said there is a slight increase in minorities in the school community, but it wouldn't surprise him if it increased in years to come.
"Hopefully, we will be an attractive district to a lot of families including minorities," Taylor said.
"I think we're attractive because we are smaller, with smaller class sizes and the ability to give more personal attention than larger school systems. Our parents who move into the school district say they don't feel like their kids get lost. A small population affords a little more opportunity to participate in clubs and athletics."
Taylor said the high school principal is black, though there are no Hispanic administrators.
In the Lake Central School Corp., 73 percent of the student body is white, 15.3 percent Hispanic and 5.4 percent black, compared with 2005-06 when the school population was 82.4 percent white, 9.9 percent Hispanic and 2.4 percent black.
Lake Central schools Superintendent Larry Veracco said they believe the varied and diverse academic offerings at Lake Central High School explain, at least in part, why even as the elementary schools have gotten smaller, high school enrollment has remained steady, in the 3,250 range.
"We also believe families with older children are in a better position to purchase a home in our district boundaries" and take advantage of our good schools, he said.
Similary in south Lake County, there have been changes in Merrillville Community Schools and Crown Point Community School Corp., as minorities have moved into those communities.
Over the last 10 years, the minority population in the Merrillville school district has increased parallel to the community's population. In the 2015-16 school year, 61 percent of the student body was black, 18 percent were Hispanic and 13.9 percent white. That's compared to a white student population 10 years ago of 33 percent.
Retired Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux previously said the changes in the district during his tenure required him to focus on the district's diversity and embrace it.
Under his leadership, Merrillville's school district became one of the most diverse school corporations in the state, a so-called minority-majority school corporation, while also maintaining high academic standards.
Merrillville High School is the only large minority-majority high school in the state that received an A grade with a 90-percent-plus graduation rate. The high school also was identified as a model school.
Salk Elementary in the district also was selected as the Indiana Title I High Achievement school for 2011 and was nominated as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2013.
Merrillville High School and Salk Elementary were recognized by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color in 2013. The organization commended the schools for successfully preparing young men of color for the future.
In the Crown Point Community School Corp., there are 79.6 percent white students, 12.7 percent Hispanic and 2.4 percent black, compared with the 2005-06 school year when there were 89.7 percent white, 5.1 percent Hispanic and 0.7 percent black.
The U.S. Census estimated the 2015 population at 28,870, that's up 3.7 percent from 2010. There is an increase of 8.1 percent Hispanic population, and the black population has increased by 6.3 percent.