Walk through the halls of any school in the Federal Way Public Schools district, and you’ll hear a symphony of languages among a multicultural array of students.
In September, the FWPS district was awarded the most diverse school district in Washington state and ranked fifth most diverse in the nation, according to niche.com.
Niche.com is a ranking and review website for schools, companies and neighborhoods around the nation. The website’s 2019 Most Diverse School Districts in Washington list explored the districts using ethnic diversity statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, along with student and parent reviews of cultural, economic and ethnic diversity to determine the rankings.
“One of the most important career skills that we know people need in the workforce is an ability to see various perspectives, and having a diverse community puts our students in a position where they can hear multiple perspectives on historical issues, on how to think creatively,” said Dr. Tammy Campbell, FWPS superintendent. “Because we have scholars who come from so many different places in the world and cultural points of view, we believe this is one of the best learning environments we can have our young people in.”
Of the 294 school districts in Washington state, FWPS encompasses 37 schools serving more than 23,000 students.
As of September of the 2018-2019 school year, the following percentages of gender, race and ethnicity were provided by Whitney Chiang, director of multimedia communications for the FWPS district.
District wide, the FWPS student population consists of 30 percent Hispanic, 27 percent white, 15 percent black, 13 percent of students who identify as two or more ethnicities, 12 percent Asian and 6 percent of students identify as another race not listed.
The FWPS district serves a 51 percent male population and a 49 percent female population.
“We value every single scholar in this district, and it’s our job to ensure they are successful. It is important they develop skills, character and a passion for what they know, are able to do, and who they want to become,” said Chiang on behalf of the district. “The world is becoming more diverse, and our scholars directly benefit through their experiences of learning from and alongside others who bring a variety of backgrounds and experiences.”
In an article ranking the top 100 elementary schools in the Puget Sound region based on academics and diversity by the Puget Sound Business Journal, three FWPS schools made the list: Sunnycrest Elementary School ranked No. 9, Lake Grove Elementary placed No. 65, and Valhalla Elementary also made the list at No. 73.
“Of the students at the 541 schools considered in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, just over half of the 268,795 students were nonwhite, and 39 percent qualified for the free and reduced lunch program,” continued the article posted on Oct. 1.
More than 120 languages are spoken in Federal Way schools and the district also translates the district website into the top 11 languages to promote inclusivity and access for all people, district officials said.
The district’s Strategic Plan, which outlines the key goals for each scholar, and the Learning Partnership Guides are also available in the top eight languages of the district including Korean, Russian, Arabic, Somali and Vietnamese among others.
In August, 88 FWPS graduates received the Seal of Biliteracy from the district. This achievement recognizes high school graduates who have demonstrated high levels of proficiency — by reading, writing, and speaking — in one or more languages, as well as demonstrating high levels of proficiency in English.
Interpretation services are available at major events and on a day-to-day basis to accommodate as many families as possible, Chiang said.
The FWPS district also has the “In It Together” Family Partnership Academy, a program where bilingual parents teach other parents how to navigate the complexities of school in their native language.
To date, 140 parents have graduated from the program, according to Chiang. This year, 12 parents are being trained as facilitators and will begin leading 125 parents alongside district and school partners.
In addition, staff have received racial equity training and a careful selection process is conducted to select curriculum that enables all students to see themselves in the materials, Chiang said.
Federal Way Public Schools values the diversity and theme of equality within the district, Chiang said, and the district believes race, socioeconomics, language, cultural background, and other exceptionalities are not predictors of student achievement.