After failing to communicate with Spanish-speaking families, CCDS strives to build supports | SC education laboratory



NORTH CHARLESTON – Monica Leon hesitated before calling Hunley Park Elementary School.

Whenever the Spanish-speaking mom of three needed to pick up her students early or wanted to know about changes in the school, she approached the phone with concern.

“What am I going to say?” She thought, bracing herself for the moment the English-speaking secretary would pick up.

She often found herself digging through emails the Charleston County School District sent to parents, trying to decipher school news using Google Translate, which was often unreliable. . Her problems escalated once the pandemic hit and her children were learning at home. Written communication became the primary means by which Leon found out what was going on in Hunley Park.

Leon’s situation is not unique. The number of Hispanics in South Carolina has increased dramatically over the past two decades. According to census data, 95,076 people in the state identified as Hispanic in 2000. In 2019, that number was 298,478.

This influx has been reflected in schools in South Carolina, with the number of Hispanic and Latino students increasing from 51,894 to 87,639 in the past eight years.

Some of these students and their parents have difficulty with English, which means they often have to navigate the complicated school system without access to resources. Often, districts do not have the tools in place to keep them properly informed about what is happening in their children’s schools.

Until this year, the Charleston County School District was unable to communicate properly with its Spanish-speaking parents. Results released in March of a federal survey found that the district often did not use qualified interpreters in meetings with Spanish-speaking or little English-speaking families and did not consistently translate written communications into Spanish.

The school agreed to improve its services for non-English speaking parents as part of its settlement agreement and created a new Office of Interpretation and Translation Services.

Since its inception, the office has helped the district strengthen its services for Spanish-speaking families by easing the burden of translation and interpretation on district workers who help families with issues that sometimes go beyond school matters. typical.

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Girmania Matrillé, parent advocate at Hunley Park Elementary School, sets up decorations in the school hallway for Hispanic Heritage Month on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 in North Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker / Staff

Christina Vivas, a bilingual parent activist in the district’s learning services department, told The Post and Courier that in addition to her work helping children from non-English speaking families in classrooms, checking out their immunization forms and other day-to-day duties, she helps families find affordable housing, find low-cost or free furniture, lead teenage pregnancy groups and connect with caregivers primary. It was much more difficult for Vivas to offer these services before the creation of the new office.

“These are the things we can do now that the translation bureau is with us and we can focus more on providing these resources,” Vivas said.

Angela Rush, the director of the office, said their work is especially important as the delta variant of the coronavirus is causing schools to be closed and students being quarantined. Last year, South Carolina saw the pandemic hit Spanish-speaking students particularly hard, as many of those students struggled to learn online and virtually. Often, they did not have access to the Internet and had difficulty communicating with their teachers.

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Their school results suffered as a result. From 2020 to 2021, the number of students learning English who met or exceeded learning goals fell by 20 percentage points. Just 24.3% of students met or exceeded South Carolina’s 2020-2021 report card goals, falling below the state’s average of 31.7%.

The Charleston County Parent Advocate Office assists students like these by visiting their homes to make sure they can log into their school’s online learning portals and help families show negative outcomes testing their children at the district.

The office currently employs three interpreters who work with school administration, parent advocates and other school officials to translate newsletters, emails, documents and anything else parents need to know. ‘to access. The district is looking to expand the services of the translation bureau, investing more than $ 700,000 to hire 13 additional bilingual secretaries.

Nine of those positions are currently open to anyone who is bilingual with a high school diploma and one year of office experience, although Rush cautioned that they are looking for employees who understand all the complex issues that non-English speaking families are faced with. faced.

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Left to right, Mari Bartolón, Monica Leon, Girmania Matrillé and Neila Agosto sit in the parent meeting room with Matrillé, a parent advocate at Hunley Park Elementary School on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 in North Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker / Staff

The office has improved the lives of Spanish speakersg parents in Charleston like Monica Leon and Mari Bartolón. Bartolón used to wait days in his old neighborhood to talk to teachers and principals about his three children. The district employed a bilingual person, who only came on Fridays.

Bartolón would be getting ready for this Friday, walking around the neighborhood with a list of questions she hoped to get answered. The whole experience left her alone and frustrated. This ultimately prompted her to enroll her students at Hunley Park.

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Since then, Girmania Matrillé, the neighborhood parents’ lawyer, has been his lifeline. She has guided Bartolón through all of the school’s processes and changes in a way that she understands. Bartolón regularly meets Matrillé in the parents’ room in Hunley Park, a former classroom now equipped with a sofa, coffee table, books, and toys.

“The truth is, they’re stressed out. They are stressed all the time. … We try to calm them down and create that atmosphere and space where they can feel safe, they can feel engaged and they can feel loved, ”said Matrillé.

Follow Libby Stanford on Twitter @libbystanford.


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