PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The Pascagoula School District is spending $450,000 to educate students from other countries. Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said before Katrina, around 100 foreign students were enrolled in the district. Now, that number has quadrupled.
Students representing 17 nationalities filled the Pascagoula High cafeteria. They are preparing for fiesta night at the school. Lilliana Mena is practicing her vocals for the event.
Mena is Mexican and Salvadorian. Her family moved to Jackson County four years ago. The teenager said Pascagoula High allows her to express her Hispanic culture in fun ways, but she acknowledges that the education and rules are demanding.
"It is more stricter and harder, but it better than other places," Mena said.
Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said out of 7,050 students enrolled at schools in the district, 558 are from foreign countries. He believes the rapid growth is caused by the increase in industrial jobs on the coast post-Katrina.
"We have Northrop Grumman, we have some other ship building groups, and we have a lot of construction going on in the refineries," Rodolfich said.
Shelley Vice is one of six full time teachers the district hired to help these young people better understand the American curriculum.
"Language is the biggest issue and communication with the teachers," Vice said.
Superintendent Rodolfich said the district has programs and tutoring to help foreign born students excel.
"When students come here, they have the same expectation. Within two years, students have to be tested on grade level."
Students like Lilliana said they are grateful for the education and the experience at Pascagoula High. The district has also hired 12 assistant teachers to work with students from different countries. School officials said half of the funding for the English Language Learner's program comes from the federal government.