Mesa schools' bilingual help line proves popular
Mel MelÚndez
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 7, 2003 12:00 AM

MESA - Mariela Rogel, an immigrant from Hermosillo, Mexico, once dreaded picking up the phone to call her son's school. But the recent launching of Ayuda (Help) Line has been an answer to her prayers, she said.

"It's so hard when you don't speak English well. You try, but I understand more than I can speak, which makes it really difficult," she said in
Spanish. "But 'Ayuda' is like a godsend. I am so appreciative."

The phone line, which was started in January, receives from 50 to 100 calls a week for input on subjects ranging from student immunization requirements to adult English as a second language classes.

The line is housed at the district's English Language Acquisition Department, which oversees most of the services offered to nearly 8,000
English-learners and their parents.

Mesa, the state's largest school district, is one of the first in the Valley to implement a bilingual phone line.

Most districts rely on bilingual school employees to translate when Spanish calls come in, Valley school officials said Friday.

"This could be time-consuming because staff have to be pulled from their assignments, or even classrooms when the translators are teachers," said
Irene Frklich, director of the English Language Acquisition Department.

"This way, calls can be transferred to us, or parents can phone us directly," she added.

Contracting with outside parties for bilingual help lines or even implementing toll-free in-house lines could prove costly. But Mesa saves on
those costs by operating a 480 number from within the department already serving this population of parents, Frklich said.

Mesa Unified's 75,000 students speak about 40 languages. About 28 percent of students are Latinos, many of whom have parents who speak English, Frklich said.

But the district's number of monolingual Spanish-speaking parents steadily increases, she said. Hence, the need for the Spanish-English phone line that runs school days from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., she added.

School newsletter ads, announcements on the district's Spanish cable TV show  Temas Educativos and a magnet campaign listing (480) 47A-YUDA helped spread the word.

"This is very rewarding work," said Ayuda operator Delma Alvarez-Smith.  "Parents call me back all the time to thank me for assisting them. They're
always so grateful."


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