April 7, 2011 | Le Mars Daily Sentinel | Original Article

Hispanic population increase boosts Le Mars' growth

The number of people in Le Mars who identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 225 Hispanics in Le Mars in 2000 -- compared to 530 in 2010.

This 305-person jump makes up more than half of the 589-person increase Le Mars saw in its total population during the last decade.


The job opportunities and strong industries in Le Mars have helped with the growth of the Hispanic population, said Neal Adler, executive director at the Le Mars Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Those are key factors -- good jobs and quality of life," he said. "Le Mars offers both."

Since the Hispanic population has been increasing nationwide, it makes sense that as Le Mars grows, the number of Hispanics living here would grow, too, he said.

The city's large production and manufacturing industries, combined with the opening of new businesses, is what's drawing people to Le Mars, said Reed Burson, employment specialist/recruiter for J & L Enterprises, a staffing and recruiting agency in Sioux City.

"We have seen an influx of the Hispanic population," he said of the people who use J & L to find a job.

It's probably 50-50 when it comes to the percentage of Hispanics versus non-Hispanics who use J & L, he said.

"We hire all different people," he said. "We just try to find the best working person for the company."

J & L does a lot of business in Le Mars, he added.

That's because people are drawn to "good communities," he said.

"We've had a lot of people from Sioux City who don't mind moving to Le Mars because it's a close-knit, nice community where it's easier to raise a family," he said.

The Hispanic population tends to move to where the work is, he said.

"In some of these smaller towns, it's harder to find qualified people for the positions, or people don't want to do those positions, so (Hispanic people) kind of just migrate to where the work is," he said, adding that many bring large families with them.

Nearby cities Sioux Center and Orange City, which also have large production and manufacturing industries, have experienced a growth in their Hispanic population, too.

In fact, they've seen higher Hispanic population growth rates than Le Mars.

Sioux Center, with Hispanics making up 920 of the city's 7,048 people, gained 640 Hispanics in the last 10 years, according to the 2010 Census.

Orange City, with a population of 6,004, has 423 Hispanics, an increase of 360 since 2000.

Le Mars can expect to gain more Hispanics, as well as general population, in the future, Reed said.

"I think that the more and more that you guys grow and have the community that you do have, you're going to see an influx of people coming," he said. "So the growth is really saying a lot for your community, I'd say."


Of the 530 Hispanics in Le Mars, 248 are under the age of 18, the 2010 Census said.

The percentage of Hispanic students at Le Mars Community School has been increasing slightly during the last few years, said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Carl Turner.

In 2007, 6.4 percent of LCS students were Hispanic. That percentage went up to 6.9 percent in 2008, 7 percent in 2009 and 7.6 percent in 2010.

However, the number of students who are non-English speakers has decreased from 90 to 67 during that same time period.

A strong English Language Learner (ELL) program has contributed to that decrease, Turner said.

When students who primarily speak Spanish at home enter the school district, they must take the Iowa Proficiency Test (IPT) to determine what their level of language is, Turner explained.

If they don't get a passing score, then they become ELL students.

"Each year, the students that are English Language Learners have to take a test called the English Language Development Assessment (ELDA)," Turner said. "It's required by the state."

A student can leave the ELL program once he or she earns a passing score on the ELDA.

The school looks at other factors, too, including grades earned at school, teacher input, results of other standardized tests and parental permission.

Early intervention has been the key to making sure language isn't a barrier to the education of Hispanic students, Turner said.

Clark Elementary's "outstanding" ELL program has helped with that, he added.

Bonnie Lassen, LCS' kindergarten through second grade English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, started a backpack program at Clark to help her students with their English.

Each of her students picks one of the themed backpacks, checks it out and takes it home.

The contents of the backpacks, translated entirely into Spanish, come with bilingual instructions for parents to do the projects with their kids.

It's been a "very effective" program, Lassen said.

"I feel it's a program that has been really beneficial for the families. My goal was to try to include the parents in the children's education," Lassen said. "With having both English and Spanish in the backpacks, it made it possible for them to be a part of their schooling."

The number of students in her ESL classroom was down slightly this year -- Lassen attributes it to LCS' lower total enrollment this year -- but she expects it will be up again next year.

"We just had round-up, and it looks like I will have quite a few next year in kindergarten starting," she said.


Along with the Hispanic population numbers, the total number of LCS students from a minority population has increased in the last few years, too.

In 2007, 9.3 percent of LCS students were of a minority population, Turner said. Now that percentage is 12.1.

"So our percentage of minority students is increasing, not dramatically, but to some extent," Turner said.

He thinks job opportunities in Le Mars and easy access to the Highway 75 bypass help draw people to the area.

The bypass has changed the way people are able to get to work outside of Le Mars, he added.

"It's not that they have to actually live in the community they work in. They can easily get to other communities, too," Turner said.

The increase in the diversity of students at LCS is "exciting," he said.

"Diversity really makes a community stronger," he said.

Plus, it prepares the students for the world they will face.

"So if we can get more diversity within our schools, I think it really has a positive impact on the whole community," Turner said, "and it just makes it more real-world or global-like."