Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 8, 2012

Schools facing language barrier use students for translation

DALTON, Ga. - Classroom meetings are hard enough when teachers struggle to explain curriculum, and parents press to learn why their children aren't making better marks. Language barriers makes the encounter even more treacherous.

Schools here are turning to their own kids for help.

Students from Morris Innovative High School are translating at parent-teacher conferences in local elementary schools. Their work eases communication difficulties, say school officials, and gives the translators real-world experience.

"When you talk about a child's grade, it can get emotional," said Paige Watts, the teacher at Morris High School who lines up translators for three local elementary schools. "All the student translators have made things gel better between teachers and families. They've helped a lot, and I've watched them mature and grow up through the process."

A language gap looms especially large in this northwest Georgia county, home to the world's carpet and flooring industry. More than one-quarter of the population speaks Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than half of those are not proficient in English.

"They want to know how their kids are doing in school," said sophomore Estela Fuentes, who has translated in some parent-teacher conferences. "They want their kids to succeed, and they need to get information that would be hard to get normally. I really wanted to be part of that process."

Fuentes said she's happy to help parents understand what's happening in their children's classrooms. Junior Ronaldo Adame said the work also gives the translators practical experience.

It looks good on college applications and resumes, said Adame, and could lead to part-time work.

The program launched in a high school that opened in 2009 as a haven for students who needed extra help. School officials kept down class sizes at Morris Innovative High School; it enrolls 480 students in grades 9 through 12, while Dalton High School has 1,440 students.

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