Pearland High School

Culture study

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Pearland High School is a Texas public high school located south of the city of Houston, Texas. It serves parts of the suburb of Pearland and neighboring Brookside village. Houston is a large, diverse city with an international outreach and a hub of modern commerce. It is also an extremely oil-dependent city and the city’s historic ties to the oil industry are reflected in the name of the school mascot: the Oilers. Houston’s — and Pearland’s — demographic composition has been changing in recent years, becoming increasingly Hispanic and young, which is also reflected in the schools’ demographics.

A number of facets do facilitate multicultural education at Pearland High School. For example, Pearland offers three LOTE (language other than English) foreign language programs, including French, Spanish, and Latin (LOTE, 2013, Pearland High School). The school has a no-bullying policy, and while it is not specifically designed to promote diversity, the program defines intolerance as unacceptable in the school community. The school has a dress code for all students, which creates a common sense of unity across racial lines because of its strict prohibition of gang-related paraphernalia. It also has a multicultural club. A number of students of a variety of different backgrounds (including Hispanic-Americans and Indian-Americans) have graduated in the top 10 lists of student graduates in recent years (PHS, DHS class of 2013 tips 1,300 mark, 2013, Pearland High School).

Possible impediments to multicultural education include the fact that the majority of the school is white (48.2%), with the second largest percentage Hispanic (30.2%), meaning that other minority groups may be relatively underrepresented (Pearland High School, 2013, Niche K-12). Relatively few foreign languages are offered, and according to the district’s website, the curriculum emphasizes passing state standardized tests, rather than cultural understanding. “The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Languages Other Than English (TEKS for LOTE) are organized around five Program Goals” (LOTE, 2013, Pearland). There is a strong polarization between haves and have-nots, given that a quarter of the students receive subsidized lunches (Pearland High School, 2013, Niche K-12). The community outside the school is also relatively segregated and polarized. There are gang-related tensions (hence the need for the dress code (Student dress code, 2013, Pearland High School).

The demographic breakdown of the school is as follows:

Students: 2, 381 total students

African-American 336 total / 14. 11%

Hispanic 677/28.43%

White 1167/49.01%

Asian 110 / 4.62%

Native American 22/0.92%

Two or more races 65 / 2.73%

Economically disadvantaged 54 / 23.69%

Limited English 36 / 1.51%

Faculty: 133 total (73 Female; 61 Male)

5 School administrators; 11 school support; 14 aides; 13 special education teachers (School finder, 2013)

Although statistics are not provided in terms of student poverty rates, the fact that 24% of students receive free or reduced school lunches is illustrative of the percentage of disadvantaged students (Pearland High School, 2013, Niche K-12).. There is a significant minority of disadvantaged students.

As a whole, the demographics of the city of Pearland are as follows:

White – 44,522 (48.8%)

Hispanic – 18,694 (20.5%)

Black – 14,709 (16.1%)

Asian – 11,206 (12.3%)

Multiracial – 1,643 (1.8%)

American Indian alone – 255 (0.3%)

Other race alone – 194 (0.2%)

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander – 29 (0.03%)

Estimated median household income: $85,985 (Source: City data, 2009)

In terms of community resources, according to its website Pearland Parks & Recreation and the local YMCA offer a continuing series of camps and other resources for families with children, to ensure that the student’s education continues year ’round, regardless of the socio-economic status of the family. The area also boasts a number of Indian and Mexican markets and restaurants to offer cuisine beyond standard ‘Texan’ fare, as showcased on the popular restaurant review website Yelp.

Part II

Pearland is a suburb of Houston, and like many Houston suburbs there is a relatively ‘planned’ appearance to the layout of the houses. The area is composed of a series of formal developments, although most of the houses are free-standing. Some neighborhoods do exist where there are areas where children can run and play, but the majority of the landscape could best be described as one of ‘suburban sprawl.’

However, the community does have some positive aspects, namely there is a strong focus on residential businesses designed to serve the community, versus industrial centers. This reflects the fact that the majority of the occupants are not employed in factories: some of the most prominent employers include NASA, educational institutions such as the high school and nearby Rice University, and retail establishments. Pearland has many attractive malls and grocery stores like the popular HEB. The median level of income and house value of the average resident is above the state average (City data, 2009)

I stopped at a store located in the Pearland’s Shopping Center, which included a wide variety of chain stores, including Macy’s, the Sports Authority, and Barnes & Noble. While wandering around, I ventured into a Coldwater Creek, a clothing store predominantly targeting middle-aged women. The clientele and the retail staff was almost entirely Caucasian. This was interesting to note, given that the demographic data on the high school was considerably more diverse than what I witnessed around me, in terms of people’s racial and ethnic identities. This highlighted to me the polarization of the community, both racially and socio-economically. Even the lower-level employees folding shirts at Coldwater Creek were relatively homogeneous. I spoke with the store manager at the clothing store, saying that I was doing some research on the area for a school project. She responded that most of the stores in the shopping complex targeted affluent middle-aged women or teens, and shopping was a popular ‘pastime’ for many residents. Having a prime location in an air-conditioned mall was critical in attracting recreational shoppers during the hot Texas summers, which she referred to as the ‘ladies who lunch’ crowd.

Pearland is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly city, and most people would regard a car as essential. While there is bus service throughout the town, residents I spoke with described the service as ‘terrible’ and seriously lacking in terms of ‘getting people where they need to go.’ This is problematic because once again it sharpens the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Poorer people are severely limited in terms of what jobs they can select if they do not have a car, and they lack the ability to take trips to go to supermarkets or bargain-shop because of the inferior quality of public transportation. Ironically, in many ways it is ‘cheaper’ to be wealthy and to have a car because of the flexibility it offers you in Pearland.

Part III

After conducting this observation, I resolved that I would, whenever possible, do a ‘walking tour’ of any area I served as a counselor. Looking at the demographic data on Pearland, because of its relatively high Hispanic population and diversity amongst the top 10 members of its graduating class, I might have been tempted to view the school as relatively inclusive and supportive of multicultural values. However, I witnessed many signs contradicting that thesis in my journey through the actual city. The community was designed in such a manner that there was little cross-pollination between neighborhoods, and neighborhoods were extremely segregated. Stores tended to be patronized by only one race or ethnicity, despite some diversity of actual shop offerings in terms of restaurant and ethnic markets. Communities can exist side-by-side but this is not the same thing as true diversity or multiculturalism. I was particularly troubled by the lack of foreign language offerings at the high school, which seemed insufficient to prepare students for a diverse global economy, particularly given the relative strength of the high school in terms of its college and graduation rates: 92% graduate and the average SAT scores are 580 verbal/610 math/570 writing (Pearland High School, 2013, Niche K-12).

This polarization of different groups is likely to carry over into the classroom: socio-economic disadvantages often translate into economic disadvantages. If one population is more represented in higher-level classes this can foster prejudice. High-performing minority students may feel uncomfortable if they make up an even slimmer majority in their honors and AP classes.

The segregation in the business indicates how on an adult level there is even more community division. Students are to some extent ‘forced’ to be in a diverse environment in public schools while adults are not compelled to do so and the shopping throughout the city exhibited relatively homogenous patterns between the dominant composition of the neighborhoods, the owners of the shop, and the shoppers.

However, the high levels of education in the community and the changing population suggest that a more diverse and multicultural perspective is possible, provided there is greater political will within the school district to expand language offerings and make diversity a more explicit priority within the school. The fact that members of historically discriminated-against groups are excelling in the school system is also hopeful.

Overall, I learned that the creation of a multicultural environment can rarely be reduced to one or two factors. School data may hint at positive signs of diversity even while there is an absence of a cohesive strategy by the school administration to truly support multicultural attitudes. That is why as a counselor it is extremely important to determine the attitudes of the individual when assessing his or her needs in the context of the wider educational environment.


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