2-sided position helps break down language barrier
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 23, 2004
Cory Schouten cory.schouten@arizonarepublic.com

Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo knows a business card can make an impression, and
she wanted it to be the right one.

When she began serving in a newly created joint position for Mesa Public
Schools and Mesa Community College and as the school year got under way, she
made a special request: that her cards be printed with one side in English,
the other in Spanish.

"I think it fits what I've been asked to do," she said. advertisement

Villanueva-Saucedo's mission is to help Hispanic families, particularly
non-English speakers, become more involved in their children's schools. She
hopes to better connect the community with the state's largest school
district and the state's largest community college.

Her combined position, an unusual approach among Valley school districts,
reflects a changing student population at both Mesa schools and MCC, which
are splitting Villanueva-Saucedo's $55,000 salary.

In the last 20 years, Hispanic enrollment in Mesa Public Schools has grown
from about 9 percent to 30 percent. MCC saw a 1 percent increase in its
Hispanic population this year alone, to 15 percent.

"We're changing," said Irene Frklich, the English-language acquisition
director for Mesa. "Our community has become much more diverse in many ways,
and there are services needed by our community, our schoolchildren."

Through community connections and one-on-one contact, Villanueva-Saucedo
hopes to get Latinos in the community more involved in everything from
informative sessions about college to public-access cable television.

The solution goes beyond translation.

Hispanic parents are worried about the same things as other parents,
Villanueva-Saucedo said, so the schools' message won't change much. What
will change is the delivery.

She also hopes to inform more Latinos of existing opportunities to learn
while their children are learning and to expand offerings like English as a
second language courses and classes about computers, financial literacy and
work skills.

"Parents being involved makes a world of difference in their child's
education," said Villanueva-Saucedo. "For a child to see their parent giving
their time and energy, it makes them see their education is important."

For her first three months, Villanueva-Saucedo is familiarizing herself with
both school systems, meeting with parents and studying existing programs.

She hopes to bring focus to a variety of efforts to get Latinos involved in
schools, with a role less about putting together new programs, more about
connecting existing programs to targeted communities.

Already, she's working with people like Olivia Espinoza, PTO president and a
parent of two at Holmes Elementary, who overcame the language barrier to get
involved in her children's schools.

Espinoza started by volunteering in classrooms and eventually collected 300
signatures in her neighborhood in support of school uniforms.

"I did a lot of walking," she said through a translator. "I used it as an
opportunity to explain the PTO."

But she knows getting involved can be intimidating for some parents.

That's where Villanueva-Saucedo comes in.

Reach the reporter at cory.schouten@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7964.

Home Page     Events and Information   Awards&Scholarships   AABE NEWS 2004      News( 2003)       News(2002)       Publications      Board_Information     Board Contact     Goals      Feedback     Research Links     Links