Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/1202edenglish02.html

Barriers come down
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 2, 2003 12:00 AM
Betty Reid

Every weekday morning, Rosario Vazquez walked her third-grader to the bus stop in her north-central Phoenix neighborhood.

The yellow bus was the only contact Vazquez had with her son's education. She didn't speak or write English, but like any parent, she wanted her child to do well. Vazquez had no clue whether he was doing well in his lessons or what was going on at school.

When she heard about a literacy program for parents of Madison School District students, she signed up. The lessons taught her important words like "read," "book," "study," "paper" and "pencil" - words that could help her to encourage her son to study.

"At the beginning, she felt less of herself," said Lupe Ornelas, who works as a translator at Madison Park School and helped translate Spanish to English for Vazquez. "Now, she knows English and feels less scared."

Ornelas is a godsend to Principal Sue Goltz, who doesn't speak Spanish and is faced with Hispanic children in growing numbers who have enrolled at Madison Park. Few of their parents speak English. Increasingly, Valley schools are trying to encourage non-English-speaking parents to get involved. No matter the language, children of parents active in their education perform better academically.

"If parents learn the English language, they grow more confident and get involved," Ornelas said. "Even if they get a little bit of math or reading translated, they understand what is going on."

Examples of what districts are doing to try to engage parents:

 Roosevelt Elementary District uses headphones at school board meetings and parent-teacher conferences with simultaneous translation; 80 percent of the district's 12,000 students are Hispanic.

 Phoenix Union High School District has a parent liaison program that targets Spanish-speaking families. When the district launched a battle against a soaring dropout rate, it hired nine people to track students. Language problems was among main reasons for absenteeism.

 Schools in increasing numbers have identified staffers who speak another language. Translators are available.

 Newsletters to parents are written in two languages, primarily English and Spanish.

 Many districts have started literacy programs for parents who don't speak English, with English as a Second Language, computer and GED classes.

 Study centers in the Roosevelt district have a staff member who speaks Spanish.

 Several schools use Title I funds to pay for training programs that teach parents how to interact with their children in reading and other subjects.

 Educators say being welcoming and accepting of cultural differences goes a long way toward involving parents and, in turn, those parents talk up the school to their friends.

 Many schools with children from diverse backgrounds have set up welcome centers. They list services available at school and in the community to help non-English-speaking parents.

 Madison Heights Parent Teacher Organization began providing translation services for its non-English-speaking parents in September.

Reach the reporter at betty.reid@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8049.