Demand for interpreters rising as parents and schools connect
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 26, 2007

Josh Kelley  12:00 AM

Demand for interpreter services has increased at school district public meetings this year, an indicator that Mesa Public Schools has developed inroads with the city's Spanish-speaking community, educators say.

During meetings, an interpreter at the back of the room translates into Spanish what is being said by school administrators and transmits that message to headsets checked out to parents.

More than a dozen parents used headsets at an informational meeting last month at Red Mountain High about the new Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies.
Fifteen parents used the interpreter service in December at Carson Junior High for a meeting about the start of Health Science High.

And at least 18 people checked out headsets earlier in the school year at Westwood High for a meeting about the school's International Baccalaureate diploma program.

"I think the participation has definitely increased, and I think it's in part because of a real concerted effort," said Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo, community liaison for the school district and Mesa Community College.

"When you talk about any new kind of program, you never know who might be interested. . . . The key is to make sure that, one, you adequately advertise so that the Spanish-speaking audience knows about it. And, two, make accommodations during the meeting so they are just as welcome and receiving the same information as everyone else in the room."

School enrollment numbers indicate the number of Spanish-speakers in Mesa is rising. The district has an estimated 9,109 English-language learners, up from 2,913 eight years ago.

"I think when you have a language barrier, it makes it more difficult for a parent to be involved," said Graciela Herrera, bilingual interpreter coordinator for the district.

Herrera said the interpreting service has long existed in Mesa but has been formalized this year and made available at more events.

The results: Schools are becoming more aware of the service and requesting it for events on their campuses, and increased interest from a parent population that's difficult to reach.

"They're just constantly calling to get these services," Herrera said. "It's picked up as the year has progressed."

At a meeting about Health Science High, Alvaro Alvarez sat next to his eighth-grade daughter and waited for administrators to begin. Herrera noticed Alvarez enter and asked him if he wanted a headset. He accepted.

"It didn't occur to him to even ask because she (his daughter) was probably going to do it for him," Herrera said.

Alvarez said the translation service would give him a better understanding of the meeting, allowing him to help his children make choices about what to study.

Villanueva-Saucedo said it's important that interpreting services are consistently used across the district for events such as PTO meetings and "the regular day-to-day stuff that we sometimes take for granted."

"It's not so much about special programs or new programs, but that parents feel welcome on campus," she said.

Gregg Good, IB coordinator at Westwood, said that at past meetings with no interpretation services, Spanish-speaking parents would leave early because they could not understand or would be led to a separate room to speak with the IB Spanish teacher.

"That was just a learning curve for me," Good said.

Now he ensures an interpreter is present in the hope that he won't miss a student like Diana Garcia, whose mother speaks only Spanish.

A bilingual liaison at Carson Junior High introduced Garcia and her mother to Good. Now Garcia, one of Westwood's top students, is flourishing in the IB program, wants to go into the medical field.