Language barriers

Immigrant groups see chance to improve language services in chancellor’s reorganization

PHOTO: Brian Charles
Parents and immigration advocates gather at the headquarters of New York Immigration Coalition to ask the Department of Education to improve access for parents with limited English proficiency.

Immigrants’ rights advocates are seizing on coming changes to the city’s school-support structure as a chance to request better translation services for parents.

A consortium of advocacy groups called on the Department of Education on Tuesday to put a staff member in charge of translation and interpretation services in each superintendent’s office, which are set to grow as part of a reorganization of the school system that will begin this summer. Those offices — or the new borough centers — will be in the best position to help schools struggling to provide materials to parents in their native languages, they said.

“There’s something very real at stake here for our immigrant families,” said Kim Sykes of the New York Immigration Coalition. “So many of them come to the U.S., come to New York City, precisely because they want their children to have a better education. They really want to know what is going on and they want and need to be able participate actively.”

Federal education law requires the city to make translation and interpretation services available to parents in their native language, and city regulations also require the Department of Education to provide vital student documents translated into the parent’s language. Responsibility for some of those services rests with individual schools, and others are overseen by the department’s Translation and Interpretation Services Unit.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has committed new resources to a variety of programs targeting English language learning students and parent engagement. Meanwhile, the mayor’s proposed budget includes $800,000 for a hotline specifically to make sure limited English proficient parents are aware of language services they’re eligible for.

At a Tuesday press conference, parents said there is a long way to go. And advocates see an opportunity in Fariña’s structural changes, which officials have said should improve parents’ ability to seek help and lodge complaints.

In her most sweeping reform effort to date, the chancellor is shifting power to oversee and assist schools back to geographically organized superintendents, and creating new borough field support centers to help schools with academic and operational matters and with supporting students with special needs.

The coalition is proposing placing the staff members responsible for improving translation and interpretation services in either the superintendent’s offices or in the borough centers to be closer to the schools and parents requiring help. They would then work with schools to provide in-person translation services and make sure materials sent home are delivered in the parents’ native language, among other responsibilities. (Each superintendent’s office will already have two “family engagement officers,” according to city officials.)

On Tuesday, parents said that help was still sorely needed, telling stories of student report cards and progress reports not being sent home in a parent’s native language, fliers telling parents about their right to translation services mailed home in English, and parent-teacher conferences and school workshops held without translation services. Earlier this year, middle school guides were not translated for weeks after being released in English.

In 2012, Advocates for Children along with New York Lawyers for Public Interest filed a lawsuit against the city claiming it was not providing translation and interpretation services for non-English speaking parents of special education students, which has not yet been resolved.

“When I take time out of my schedule to become involved in my kid’s school and I am not getting the translation services I need, it has an impact on how well they are doing in school and the amount of money I bring into my household,” Samsun Nahar, a Bronx parent and member of the South Asian immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving, said through a translator.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the Translation and Interpretation Unit trained 850 teachers, principals and other staff members to work with parents with limited English proficiency in 2013, and the department plans to train more staff members. The department will also produce “culturally sensitive communications in subway ads, radio ads and communities across the city,” spokeswoman Yuridia Peña said in a statement.

“This is a critical aspect of the Chancellor’s vision — to include parents as partners in all aspects of their child’s education,” Peña said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.