One of the goals of Taylor School, like all elementary schools, is to prepare our students to be lifelong English readers. And our school administration wanted to run a Springboard program to help achieve this goal for our students.
But at Taylor, most of our students live their lives in not just one, but two languages: English and Spanish.
Our school staff has to continually learn how to better engage our bilingual community. Taylor school staff must incorporate these lessons in everything we do, Springboard Afterschool included.
“Most families here don’t speak English fluently,” added Carmen Burgos, Taylor School secretary, who spends much of her day speaking with families. This language barrier can sometimes make communication between non-bilingual staff and families difficult, “but it is extremely important to talk to them in Spanish about how they can help their children,” insists Ms. Burgos.
So in turn, “we welcome the families [to the office] with a smile and respond to their needs in their language,” reported Evelyn Alicea, our School Community Coordinator and a bilingual staff member.
All fliers, posters, and announcements translated into Spanish. At all public events, bilingual staff help translate important academic information. These events include “report card conferences, IEP meetings, meetings with the principal…” Ms. Alicea listed off.
But for all its challenges, our community’s bilingualism presents opportunities for growth and collaboration, two of the fundamental components of the Springboard approach.
In January, we assembled our wonderful team, made up of literacy coach Tracy Godshalk and teachers Heather Martin and Amanda Sakow. But we soon realized we were missing something that would determine the success of the program.
We asked Ms. Alicea and Ms. Burgos to serve as translational assistants “since none of our team members our bilingual,” shared literacy coach Ms. Godshalk. As native Spanish speakers with long histories at Taylor, these two women were natural choices.
Ms. Alicea and Ms. Burgos’ responsibilities as assistants were varied but essential.
They helped enroll students, call families, and translate documents. But importantly, at each workshop, they were each placed in one of our classrooms. “I sit in between [Spanish speaking families] and helped translate what the teachers were saying and read to students,” explained Ms. Burgos. “I try my best to make [the Spanish speaking] families feel comfortable,” said Ms. Alicea, “I try to make them feel welcome to our school community.”
“I think the best component [of the program] is the workshops, with students connecting with parents,” expressed Ms. Alicea. “It gives them a chance to spend time academically learning with each other.”
And that is the potential of the workshops for our bilingual families; both student and adult family member can improve their English reading and comprehension together.
Ana Marin is the mother of Bianca Tamayo, a 5th grader enrolled in our program. Bianca speaks both English and Spanish fluently. Ms. Marin understands English fairly well, but has difficulty with complex directions in English.
“I liked the workshops… I learned a lot I did not know before,” said Ms. Marin (translated from Spanish). “I have known Evelyn and Ms. Martin [Bianca’s teacher] for a very long time” and they are very accommodating to me, attested Ms. Marin.
Together, Ms. Martin and Ms. Alicea are able to give the time to teach important reading tips to Bianca’s mom, Ms. Marin. Then, Ms. Marin feels more capable to help her daughter, even in a language she is not yet fluent in.
And this goes back to what we have learned at Taylor:
To help a child grow, we need a caring teacher and an empowered parent or guardian, and sometimes that means we have to find someone to communicate between them.
This blog was contributed by Ryan Fajardo as part of our Spotlight blog series. Ryan worked for Springboard as an Afterschool Site Leader while working at Bayard Taylor Elementary School as the Community Partnership Coordinator.