Katy area diversity sparks response from community services Economic and cultural engagement help overcome language barriers

Katy area community services support a diverse communityThe face of the Katy area is changing as the region grows. Diversity changes within the community, school district, emergency services and businesses accompany that growth. U.S. Census Bureau projections show regional minority populations increased proportionately from 2010 to 2015 while the Caucasian proportion decreased.

Between 2010 and 2016, Katy ISD’s minority staff numbers grew between 1.3 and 3.6 percent while the district’s white teaching staff shrank by 6.6 percent, according to the Texas Education Agency. Furthermore, TEA data shows between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 school years, KISD’s Caucasian student population decreased by 5.36 percent while all other races have increased proportionately.

Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner said as Houston expands westward, the Katy area can expect to draw a diverse labor force.

“It’s the community atmosphere,” Brawner said. “It’s our emphasis in our vision for families and raising children in a safe environment.”

Serving diverse students

Katy area community services support a diverse communityIn KISD classrooms, 91 languages are spoken and about one third of new students speak or hear languages other than English at home.

Linda Shepard, director of English as a second language and Bilingual Programs for the school district, said the district represents more than 150 countries.

“We focus on the fact that many of our students have rich foundations for learning,” Shepard said, referring to their diverse experiences.

The number of English language learners in KISD grew from 14.1 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 17 percent during the 2016-17 school year, according to the district. In that time, the share of ESL-certified KISD staff also rose from 28 to 34 percent.

Some students in grades 6-12 who have resided in the U.S. for fewer than 15 months qualify for the district’s newcomer centers, which feature teachers trained intensively in ELL instruction. However, parents are also encouraged to take English classes, learn about American customs and learn about volunteering through the district’s parent centers.

“We also integrate how to support the child at home from setting up quiet study spaces to establishing homework routines,” Shepard said.

Emergency services

Katy-area public services are learning to work with a multicultural community. At the Katy Fire Department, new hires must attend diversity training while the department has staff who speaks Spanish, Filipino and Vietnamese, Fire Chief Russell “Rusty” Wilson said.

When responding to an emergency, KFD dispatch, the Katy Police Department and Community Volunteer Fire Station 3 can use Language Line Solutions, a translation company supporting more than 240 languages, according to its website.

However, Steve Fowler, Community Volunteer Fire Station 3 fire chief, said common courtesy and simply being aware can prevent cultural clashes.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever run into a situation where we’ve offended someone because of differences in cultures,” Fowler said.

When responding to a home, Houston Emergency Services District 48 Chief Jeff Hevey said some people have different customs or preferences for communicating with staff. Some cultures prefer that responders speak to the eldest person or the eldest male, or sometimes children are the only English-speakers in the home.

As a result, outreach is key to working with other cultures, Hevey and Lt. Simon VanDyk, ESD No. 48 public information officer, said. Department teams have at least one bilingual person present when they go door-to-door to check and replace smoke alarms, VanDyk said.

ESD No. 48 representatives also participated in an interfaith event held by the Muslim American Society of Houston in Katy last September to build relationships with the various religious groups. The event attracted members of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Jaan and other faiths.

Hevey said the event was a chance to help a new portion of the community better understand what the department does.

“It was a chance to interact with a portion of the community that had never reached out to us before,” he said. “If there’s a better understanding of each other, there’s less fear; there’s less apprehension.”

Similar to KFD, the Katy Police Department requires diversity training for staff. Officers are required to take de-escalation classes, according to KPD Assistant Chief Tim Tyler.

The assistant chief said that in most cases, someone nearby will be able to help officers communicate with the public.

“It might take a few minutes, but we can find someone to translate for us,” Tyler said.

Business diversity

Katy area community services support a diverse communityChanging demographics are reflected in the area’s business community as well.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s five-year survey of business owners, in 2007 there were 1,330 Hispanic- owned businesses in the Katy area. By 2012, that number had increased to 1,635. Additionally, the number of businesses owned by people of Chinese descent increased from 66 to 135 during that same time.

One such example is the future Katy Asian Town off Colonial Parkway, which will include shops, restaurants, entertainment and other businesses with a focus on Asian culture.

“Right now, Katy and Sugar Land attract a lot of attention from Asians who are looking for a good home environment,” said Josie Lin of RE/MAX United of Houston, the realty broker representing the center’s developer.

Minority-owned businesses migrating from Houston to Katy, as well as engineers who were laid off from the oil and gas industry now starting companies, could account for the increased diversity, said Ingrid Robinson, president of the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council.

The council works to get suppliers certified as a minority business enterprise, which opens up networking, education and contract opportunities, according to the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

HMSDC reported that 55 of its minority-owner supplier members are located in the Katy area.

“Most recently, I attended a meeting there which was of IT professionals and business owners who were of Asian and Indian origin,” Robinson said. “I was surprised at how large the group was and how many were located in Katy. I had thought I was going to speak to a small group, but it was over 50.”

In response to the changes, the Katy Area Economic Development Council formed a diversity task force, which met for the first time Aug. 10. Katy EDC President Lance LaCour said the group will meet every other month.

“Our community has an extremely diverse population and I feel it is important that our business community reflect that strong diversity as well,” he said. “As we continue to see business owners from varying backgrounds elect to grow their businesses in the Katy area, our community will greatly benefit.”

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