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Habla Español? Your Community Needs You

Alma Arvizu sat down with interpreter and translator Leonicia Rubio at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center to talk about conferences and kindergarten next school year for her son, Eric, now a preschooler.

Arvizu, like many district parents, knows who to turn to for help: Rubio and the other bilingual interpreters.

“It helps me,” said Arvizu, an immigrant from Mexico, with Rubio translating. “I understand very little English. I can’t speak it. With Leonicia, I have very good communication with the teachers. I think a lot of parents that don’t speak English go to the interpreters.”

What:Spanish interpreters needed

Where: Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

Why: Interpreters are especially needed during daytime office hours, like morning drop-off between 7:30 – 9:30 a.m., but there are evening events too. Each shift/need would have a level assigned to it, so you can get a sense of what proficiency is needed.

Visit: ServeGR

Needs for interpretation and translation are even greater than Rubio and the district’s other translators and interpreters can fill, so administrators are turning to a new volunteer site, ServeGR.com, for help.

The site was started by Grand Rapids-based Westminster Presbyterian Church, where Carol Lautenbach, assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and accountability, attends. It links potential volunteers with opportunities based on their strengths, passions and schedules to find the best fit both for volunteers and those who need them.

ServeGR site coordinator Heather Colletto said the goal is to fill long-term needs.

“What’s so great about the Godfrey-Lee opportunity is that for someone who has Spanish-speaking skills to put to use on behalf of the community, it’s a great lightbulb moment.”

For a school district, it’s a nice way to make outside connections, Lautenbach said. As of early March, five people had already expressed interest in serving as bilingual volunteers, which requires a background check. An orientation will be set in the near future.

Not only will it benefit the district to have more volunteers, Lautenbach said, but it will build awareness about Godfrey-Lee.

“We want to remove as many barriers as we can for people to come in and be involved in our schools. We are also hoping to show them what great schools we are. It’s good for us to showcase the good things we are doing and show that we are welcoming to everyone.”

Carol Lautenbach
Carol Lautenbach

Join an Awesome Team

Many ECC parents need help with communication on busy mornings and at dismissal time, Rubio said. There are often parents waiting for assistance. “It would be really nice to have someone else there to help them.”

Interpreters and translators Rubio; Susana Chapa, who works at Godfrey Elementary School; and community liaison Jaime Ramirez, who works at the Administration Building, serve as connection points for parents about their children’s education. They rely a lot on one another to fill the communication needs in the Spanish-speaking community.

“We have an awesome team right here,” said Ramirez.

In the district, 75 percent of families are Hispanic, and 40 percent of students are English-language learners. Rubio, Chapa and Rodriguez write notes and newsletters, make phone calls, and translate at conferences and other parent meetings. They help make sure parents understand complicated terminology on forms, and plan and promote events like Las Posadas, held in December.

Parents have varying levels of English, and basic skills aren’t always enough for parents to receive the information they need, Lautenbach said, especially when it is critical. It’s important they can communicate comfortably.

“If it’s an emotional issue, a child who’s not going to graduate on time, a medical issue, a fight that’s happened, we all want to default to what’s most comfortable for us,” she said, “even if we are fairly fluent in another language.”

She wants parents to receive the right information and provide as much input as possible. “We want to make sure we are providing opportunities for parents to have a full voice.”



SNN Article on Jaime Ramirez

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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