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Dos Pueblos High Students Help Bridge Language Gap at Back-to-School Nights

Spanish-speaking parents get a translation assist from teens at 4 Santa Barbara Unified School District campuses

Sixty bilingual Dos Pueblos High School students are involved in a unique Back-to-School Night outreach project to interpret for Spanish-speaking parents at four Santa Barbara Unified School District schools.

The schools include Monroe Elementary on Sept. 1, followed by La Colina Junior High on Wednesday, Dos Pueblos on Sept. 13 and Goleta Valley Junior High on Sept. 15.

If their crosstown experience at Monroe was any indication, the opportunity promises to be as unforgettable to the students as it will be for parents who want to find out in their own language what’s going on in their children’s classes.

The first team of 24 student volunteers got a ride to Monroe, at 431 Flora Vista Drive on the Mesa, last week compliments of Easy Lift Transportation, after enjoying a pizza dinner donated by the parents group Padres Unidos, a co-sponsor of the outreach.

At Monroe, the students were dispersed to each of the classrooms, where they came alongside the teachers and interpreted valuable information about the curriculum, homework and important dates to remember.

For seniors Kathy Lopez and Melissa Gonzalez, both AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) students, it was an epiphany: “This was the best experience we’ve ever had.” “It was an incredible thing to see the parents understand and get it. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

According to Sal Güereña, who co-organized the effort as co-chairman of the Dos Pueblos PTSA Committee on Equity and Excellence in Education, “Why not be a little creative, instill a spirit of voluntarism and help build some self-confidence in the students’ lives while at the same time helping other parents connect with their schools?”

Güereña explained that Back-to-School Night is an essential way for parents to get involved in their schools and with their teachers, yet Spanish-speaking parents often feel left out because of the cultural and language differences.

It was a team effort. The Dos Pueblos English Learners Office recruited, organized and trained the teams of student interpreters. The AVID teachers encouraged their students to volunteer for the project and the Career Center gave them community service credit for their time.

“This is an innovative way to promote parent engagement while also demonstrating the benefits of schools working together to better serve their communities,” said Dos Pueblos High Principal Shawn Carey. “We are grateful to our community partners for supporting DP students in their efforts.”

— Sal Güereña chairs the parents’ organization, Padres Unidos, a community group that seeks to close the academic achievement gap by equipping parents to help other parents in the schools.

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