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Mitchell school enrollment expected to decline slightly this year

Decrease expected as descendants of Baby Boomer generation grow out of school age

Changing demographics will likely lead to a slight decrease in student enrollment in the Mitchell School District for the 2019-20 school year, a school official says.

Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District, said that while an official tally has not yet been taken this year, he expects enrollment at the elementary schools in the district to be down from 2018-19. Due to that, enrollment will likely drop for Mitchell School District.

“We don’t have the numbers yet, as with the first week we have a lot of students moving in and out, but we’re just a little bit down,” Graves said. “It’s simply because we’re seeing lower numbers of students at the elementary schools in the district in general.”

That decrease is likely the result of the end of a cycle started when the Baby Boomer generation caused a population increase following World War II, Graves said. The large number of people in that generation had families, and those families had families. As later, smaller generations began to have children of school age, the bulk of children from the Baby Boomer generation and their children have grown out of school age.

“After the World War II generation came along, there was a large surge in population of school-age children. As that group moved on and had children, that created another bump. It wasn’t as large a boom, but it was large,” Graves said.

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That boom is starting to run its course, he said, as families generally decrease in size.

“The elementary numbers are starting to return to the historical levels,” Graves said. “I often say that everyone seems to have a three-car garage, but there is only one tricycle in it.”

The district had 2,791 students in kindergarten through 12th grade during the 2018-19 school year. The district will take an official head count in September and submit that enrollment to the state. The state uses that number to determine the state aid the district will receive, among other things.

But there are other uses for keeping track of student population, Graves said. A large student body means more programs may be available within the district. Students and districts have more options for extracurricular activities than ever before, but the size of the student population may limit the number a district can offer.

“If you want a specialized program, it requires a certain number of students. If you want to have extracurriculars, it requires the students, and the number of extracurriculars has been growing over the last 20 years,” Graves said.

The lower enrollment numbers in the elementary schools of the district will work their way through the classes and eventually out of the district, Graves said. As that happens, he expects enrollment numbers to generally stabilize somewhere closer to their historical levels.

There are some exceptions to that, however, Graves said. At least one portion of the student body has seen an increase in recent years — students utilizing the English as a second language programs in the district. Those students may eventually help offset some of the decrease in overall student population in the years to come, he said.

“We’ve had an influx of ESL students, and that may reduce the impact or eliminate it all together,” Graves said.

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Graves said ESL students traditionally make up about 5 percent of the student body, and he expects that figure will be going up for the 2019-20 school year, he said.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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