Changing faces of area schools
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org November 27, 2012 8:16PM
One of the most diverse schools in D300 is Dundee-Crown in Carpentersville. Students (from left) Karen Arreola, Akemi Almeida, Mary McNicholas, Jonathan Lee, Aisha Washington and Lisset Amezcua tell us what diversity means to them. September 07, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Least Diverse (Majority one ethnicity)
School District Percent Ethnicity
Golfview Elementary School, Carpentersville D300 91 Hispanic
Lily Lake Grade School, Lily Lake D301 91 White
Ontarioville Elementary School, Hanover Park U46 90 Hispanic
Central Middle School, Burlington D301 89 White
Laurel Hill Elementary School, Hanover Park U46 8 Hispanic
Sheridan Elementary School, Elgin U46 87 Hispanic
Hampshire Elementary School, Hampshire D300 85 White
Kenneth E. Neubert Elementary School, Algonquin D300 83 White
Garfield Elementary School, Elgin U46 82 Hispanic
Huff Elementary School, Elgin U46 82 Hispanic
Source: 2009-10 data, courtesy of WBEZ
Updated: December 29, 2012 6:01AM
STREAMWOOD — Walking through the hallways at Streamwood High School, senior Kiana Leveritte said she bet someone could count five or six different ethnicities and cultures in the faces they see.
“And then there are some people you don’t even know what race they are,” said Kiana, 17, who is black and “a little bit Cherokee.”
They might be “a mix of all six of us,” said Mohammed “Zain” Qurashi, a 16-year-old senior at Streamwood who is Indian.
That’s because the school is the most diverse in Elgin School District U46 and the 10th most diverse of the districts in Chicago and its collar counties.
Of the 2,271 students enrolled at Streamwood High in the 2009-10 school year, 36 percent were white; 47 percent, Hispanic; 6 percent, black; and 9 percent, Asian, according to data gathered by Chicago National Public Radio station WBEZ 91.5 as part of its “Race Out Loud” series.
That’s a microcosm of the second-largest school district in Illinois, which in 2010 was 36.5 percent white, 44.4 percent Hispanic, 6.9 percent black and 8.1 percent Asian, according to Illinois Interactive Report Card data.
It also shows a pattern of rapid growth and diversification over the past generation.
Just 20 years ago, Streamwood High was 82 percent white — one of 41 majority white schools and alternative programs in U46. Of the 1,895 students enrolled then, 9 percent were Hispanic; 3 percent, black; and 5 percent, Asian.
Students at Streamwood High — and Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, the most diverse in next-door neighbor Community Unit School District 300 — say that diversification is a plus.
Streamwood High junior Mallory Fritz, 16, who lives in Streamwood, is white. She can trace her ancestry to Poland, Germany and Ireland, but that hasn’t stopped her from taking part in activities such as a Latinas Unidas picnic last school year, where she learned more about the culture of her Hispanic friends.
“Don’t be afraid to learn other stuff from other cultures,” she said. “Talk to the people and let them see you. Put yourself out there.”
Here are the stories of some of the students who have put themselves out there at the area’s two most diverse high schools.
Kiana Leveritte, a senior studying Japanese in the World Languages Academy at Streamwood High, is starting a student organization celebrating black cultures, such as her own heritage, at the school.
But the Streamwood resident doesn’t want to call the club the Black Student Union, she said. Instead, she wants to call it “Umoja,” a Swahili word that means “unity.”
“If I called it the Black Student Union, and you’re not black, you think you can’t come, and that’s not true. It’s about vibin’ off the culture,” she said.
“Vibin’ off the culture” is what Kiana said she now does in the school’s speech and drama clubs, where other students share her interests but not often her skin color.
When she first came to U46 after attending a number of schools around the area, including Schaumburg Christian Academy, her first instinct was to latch on to students who looked like her, hoping that meant they would accept her. But that turned out not to be the best decision for her, she said, and she decided race never should be a barrier to pursuing her interests.
“If you have friends of every different culture, you get to step into their culture, and you get to see what they do or what they believe in or don’t believe in,” she said.
Mary McNicholas, 16, of West Dundee only has heard negative things about Dundee-Crown from people whose children don’t go to her school, she said.
Things such as, “ ‘Oh, isn’t that, like, 51 percent Hispanic now?’ ” she said.
“Well, yeah? And?”
Dundee-Crown actually was 41 percent Hispanic in the 2009-10 school year, according to WBEZ. It also was 48 percent white, 3 percent Asian and 6 percent black that year — still much more diverse than it was 20 years ago, when, at 82 percent white, it was one of 18 majority white schools in District 300.
McNicholas is white, and her voice rises in a question when she identifies herself as “European-Caucasian?” Or “Irish and everything else?”
It’s a question, the high school junior said, that always confuses her on standardized tests.
“I don’t think it’s a question you need to know,” she said.
And it’s even more complicated for others, like her schoolmate, Ionya Sterrett, 18, of West Dundee, who said she is black, Sicilian, Cherokee, French, German and Scotch-Irish. The senior just checks “other” on those tests, she said, because “none of them fit what I am.”
Xzavier Torres, 16, of Algonquin, is Mexican, Puerto Rican and Lithuanian, but he said jokingly he considers himself “a white boy with a tan.”
The Dundee-Crown junior likes playing football and going to the mall with friends. He doesn’t really like soccer or quinceañera parties, although he does like the diversity of ethnicities and cultures and even interests at the high school, especially after attending “mostly white” elementary and middle schools in Algonquin, he said.
“It’s like you eat something for a long time — say you have pizza five nights in a row — and you just get tired of it,” he said.
Students sometimes lob racist jokes at each other, according to Xzavier, but that’s all in good fun. Nobody takes it seriously, he said.
And he sees the school a lot like its football team: “We have people on our football team who are black, Hispanic, Asian, and we all have the same goal. I think all people at our school have the same goal — to become successful.”
At Streamwood High, Qurashi (nicknamed Zain because “everybody in my family is named Mohammed”), said if you see “black, white, brown, it’s whatever.”
“No more staring,” he said.
He was born in India and moved with his parents, brother and sister to Streamwood when he was 6 or 7 because his dad “was thinking of education.” Now a senior in high school, he said he plans to study business or engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago or Northwestern University in Evanston, and he is interested in becoming a computer software developer.
Qurashi said he is “sure” his interactions with other students from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds will help him in the future.
“It’s like with anything in life: If you meet somebody, or see something, you pick out the good things and leave the bad things. In any culture, you pick out the good things you like and leave out the bad things. You learn from everything. You learn every day,” he said.
“So basically you learn from everybody you’re with and everything you see. It helps a lot. It opens up your mind.”
Dundee-Crown definitely is more diverse than the schools in Mexico, according to 17-year-old Lissett Amezcua Patino of Algonquin. She knows this because she grew up in Mexico, she said, although she was born here in the United States and returned just over a year and a half ago.
That doesn’t mean it necessarily is more accepting, though, she said.
“It depends on the person,” Lissett said.
For instance, on her first day at Dundee-Crown last year — her first ever at a school in the United States — a girl confronted her who spoke only English, she said. Amezcua Patino spoke only Spanish then. Just weeks ago, that girl confronted her again.
“She said, ‘Oh, the Mexicans never learn English, or they have an accent and we don’t understand, and they’re always like troublemakers,’ and things like that, she told me,” Amezcua Patino said.
“That makes me feel mad at some point. But I have to understand there are going to be people in my life who are going to be like that.”
And, the senior said, she’s had fun learning about her classmates’ cultures and seeing things differently from what her parents have taught her. She knows not everybody gets that experience, she said.
So she’s not going to let one person ruin that for her.
“Not just for one person that means everybody is going to be like that,” Amezcua Patino said.