Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 8, 2012

Schools facing language barrier use students for translation


CNHI

— 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.

The Morris curriculum also blends online and real-world teaching.

These days, the school created for failing students is increasingly popular among those in Dalton Public Schools who like its classes and programs.

The Morris student translators are also helping give the school exposure in the community. They've worked at a health fare and will have opportunities to work with a local carpet manufacturer and in a college admissions office. Students will also shadow translators at a local hospital.

The program is still in its first year, but Roan Elementary School Principal Cindy Parrott said the student translators have proven themselves.

"We started using them earlier this year, when they came over for a couple of hours to help with the conferences," she said. "After a while, we didn't even have to explain things to them anymore. They picked up the educational vocabulary and didn't need a lot of assistance."

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Details for this story were reported by The Daily Citizen in Dalton, Ga.