WHAT MAKES US SPECIAL
The increasing diversity of the area offers newcomers and visitors a great variety of activities, from foreign language classes to cultural programs, including a traditional Mexican posada, a nine-day celebration that symbolizes Joseph and Mary’s journey before the birth of Jesus, or the celebration of Holi, the Indian festival of colors.
HAMILTON COUNTY SCHOOLS
By the numbers
1,300: Number of English language learners
34: Number of countries represented by the English language learners
25: Number of languages spoken by the English language learners
Source: Hamilton County Schools
German kids playing with Mexican children or Russian adults learning to speak English in a church is reflective of what’s happening in the Chattanooga area.
Although foreign-born residents are a small percentage of the population, Chattanooga and the surrounding area are becoming a prime example of the melting pot.
“The most diverse, or outside influence, we get in this region, the better it will be for all of us because new people bring with them new ideas and new ways of doing business,” said Christian Höferle, a German native and founder of Höferle Consulting in Cleveland, Tenn.
In Bradley County, there’s a strong Russian/Ukrainian influence, a large Spanish-speaking community and a strong Asian immigrant population, he said.
With the newest addition of German companies Volkswagen and Wacker in the area, it is expected that between 3,000 and 4,000 Swiss and German families will arrive here, and school districts are already preparing for them.
Hamilton County Schools has German programs at Normal Park Museum Magnet and Brown Academy for children whose parents come to work for VW.
There are 1,300 English language learners, representing 34 countries in the school district, said Danielle Clark, spokeswoman for Hamilton County Schools.
“This is a wonderfully diverse population we’ve seen tremendous growth in,” she said. “As Chattanooga’s population continues to grow and diversify itself, we are going to see that reflected in the schools. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
In Tennessee, the number of Hispanics grew by almost 900 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to a report by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.
But as children, many who are born here to foreign-born parents, quickly assimilate, often they also lose their native language, said Marisol Jimenez, head English-as-a-second-language teacher at East Side Elementary.
The elementary is one of several schools in Hamilton County that, at times, have students from about a dozen countries, including Iraq, Burundi, Armenia, Guatemala and Liberia.
“We are losing our bilingual population the longer our kids are in school,” Mrs. Jimenez said, “and the goal is for them to remain bilingual.”
Having a diverse population is a great opportunity for Chattanooga, she added.
“We can learn about the world we are living in and we don’t have to go to other countries because we have it here. We can have the best of all worlds,” she said.