When Cristina Hernandez enrolled at Monticello Elementary School 30 years ago, she didn’t speak any English, and nobody at the school spoke Spanish.
A Mark Morris High School student taking Spanish did her best to translate until Hernandez and other Spanish-speaking students learned enough English to get by.
Now, Hernandez is a bilingual family liaison at Monticello, helping families understand the school system and connecting them to resources. And this year, she has a new resource to share with the roughly 1,300 Longview students who are Spanish-speaking and their parents: “Una guia para padres.” (A guide for parents).
The guide is a slick brochure filled with information about the Longview School District, and it’s completely in Spanish.
Hernandez said so far, the brochure will make it easier for parents and students to understand bus schedules, check student grades, learn about emergency alert procedures and track other other critical information.
“It’s all in one place so they won’t lose it. It’s too much to learn in one meeting, especially the first meeting,” Hernandez said.
Yeni Woodall, director of the English Language Learners program and a bilingual family liaison, said the brochure also ensures that the district is giving out consistent information.
“Rather than all of us doing something different for five siblings (at different schools), it’s the same brochure, and just one brochure for the family,” Woodall said.
Aside from being useful, the brochure can also help parents with limited English skills feel welcomed and comfortable with the school system, Hernandez said.
Students get a better education if schools and parents interact. And if that interaction is easier in Spanish, then it’s the district’s job to make those resources available, said school district spokesman Rick Parrish.
“We’re here to serve everybody who walks through our doors, and serve them well.”
Hernandez said that’s a welcome change from her own experience as a student.
“This is like over-the-top, because back then, they didn’t even have a single staff member who spoke Spanish,” Hernandez said.
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Amy Neiman, the district’s director of state and federal programs, said most school districts don’t have specific family liaison positions. Longview is unique because it has a liaison in the majority of schools, and it is looking to hire two more, Neiman said, though not all the liaisons are bilingual.
The idea for the brochure developed because the district has the family liaisons, Parrish said. At a meeting last year, the liaisons started discussing the questions they got asked the most by families trying to navigate the district. The idea for a brochure addressing those common problems grew from there.
The brochures were printed in-house, which Parrish said helped when an unexpected situation arose – a demand for an English version.
“We didn’t plan on printing them in English, but when we sent it out, people started requesting it in English,” Parrish said. “So we translated it and they handed out over 200 at Mark Morris to all the incoming freshmen.”
Information about the district’s proposed $119 million school bond also has been translated into Spanish. The district also created a double-sided emergency information card in Spanish and English. Hernandez said that could help prevent dangerous situations, like if a parent doesn’t know to check online if school is canceled due to weather and sends their child outside to the bus stop. If they then leave for work, the child could become stranded.
“Sometimes the bus picks students up before the school is even open, so there’s nowhere to call to see if there’s school,” Hernandez said. “Something so simple can become such a big problem.”
This is just the starting point for outreach, Parrish said. The district plans to revise the brochures at the end of this year after the family liaisons have tested them. Neiman called the materials one part of a larger goal to engage all families in the district.
“We’re learning all the time how to do that,” Neiman said. “We’re using this as a starting place to expand and remove all of the barriers.”
Woodall said she’s already seen more barriers come down, and school has barely started. This year, she and Hernandez worked with R.A. Long and Mark Morris principals to have a special Spanish orientation for Spanish-speaking families.
“We met separately with the Spanish-speaking parents and hired an interpreter and did everything the English-speaking parents did,” Woodall said.
The parents got to tour the schools and ask the principals questions. Hernandez said for some parents, it was the first time they had been in the buildings.
“When they got the same information as everybody else, the parents were asking questions,” Hernandez said. “They were so excited.”