New school liaisons break language, cultural barriers | January 8, 2016 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 8, 2016

New school liaisons break language, cultural barriers

Parents say district program helps them connect to kids' schools

by Elena Kadvany

When Patricia Estrada's first-grade son got into a conflict with another Duveneck Elementary School student during a game of four square, the school asked her to come in for a meeting with their teacher and the other student's parents.

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Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


8 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

This is a wonderful program. The real pilot in the district of this approach was at Ventura Elementary School in the mid- 1970s under Principal Jerry Schmidt. Olga Thompson, originally from Honduras, saw the need for someone to communicate with Spanish-speaking families with children in the school, and did so, first as a volunteer and then while serving as a bilingual teacher's aide. Her caring presence was reassuring and helpful for a great many families and students, first at Ventura and later at Creekside and Juana Briones as school closures played out in the district.

4 people like this
Posted by J Owen
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2016 at 11:16 am

El Carmelo Elementary school has implemented a similar program, consisting of parent volunteers. Our new "Language Ambassadors" program represents 11 different world languages. At the beginning of the year we had a kick off dinner, for the entire student body and their families. The language ambassadors were present and able to meet with families who spoke their particular language in the home. The language ambassadors are available through out the year in person, and via phone and email to connect with those families, as well as answer any questions they may have about our school, or the community. We also have English speaking "Grade level ambassadors" for each of our grades. These ambassadors are available to all our families as well, to answer questions that new to the area families may have. To explain how the PTA and PiE work, how to register for after school programs, etc. We have found that these ambassadors are particularly useful to families who may move in to the school mid year. The school Secretary as well as our teachers have a list of all of the ambassadors and are able to connect new families with the ambassador who would be most helpful.

We are really striving to make sure every family feels connected at our school. This is our first year with both of the Ambassador programs, and they have been very well received!

3 people like this
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jan 11, 2016 at 1:14 pm

This sounds like an excellent programme and definitely needed in our schools, particularly for those with their first child enrolled in school.

I would like to add that something similar is needed for all families where the parents have not been educated in the US.

As a "Brit", I would like to say that although my English is of course my first language, I still found it extremely confusing with all the jargon used in American schools that I was unfamiliar with. I am sure that all countries have their own jargon which doesn't make sense to anyone new to the system. Even when asking a question about such jargon the answer is usually given containing other jargon which doesn't help. Online searches also tend to use similar jargon which makes attempting to understand what a teacher, administrator or particular piece of information sent home or included in an email to parents means in plain English.

I would appreciate it if a list of particular jargon terms could be formulated for all parents, but particularly for English speaking parents from other English speaking countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, etc., where these jargon terms are explained in simple, plain English.

Thank you.

2 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2016 at 6:07 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I was reminded of the parable " Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." and how it would apply to our language issues in schools: "Give a man a translator and you answer him for a day; teach a man the language and you give him understanding for a lifetime." (applies to men and women). So ESL classes (night or day) for the non-English speaking parents/guardians is strongly indicated, and they should be counseled to attend if at all possible. Perhaps the children could attend, too. No reason for US citizens to not be able to communicate in English, and strong reasons for fluency: "English (specifically American English) is the primary language used for legislation, regulations, executive orders, treaties, federal court rulings, and all other official pronouncements...". Emergency instructions need to be understood and obeyed. In an emergency, people need to be able to answer questions to allow responders to help them. Even visitors from other countries could benefit from ESL classes. Why are they not better advertised and promoted?

6 people like this
Posted by Look in the mirror
a resident of Addison School
on Jan 11, 2016 at 6:49 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Look in the mirror
a resident of Addison School
on Jan 16, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Here is the text from the PAO article:

Tanya Meyers, an English Language Learner specialist at Duveneck, said hiring Corado on a permanent basis has been helpful to families. Her own Spanish is limited, so if she needed to communicate with parents before, she would often go through district channels to bring in a translator.

"It was often somebody different," she said of the translators, "so it's been really nice to have the consistency of that one person so the parents can build a relationship with them and build that trust. When I communicate more sensitive matters to Jose and he communicates them to the families, I feel like it's more well-received because they do feel more at ease."

It seems that we have a "specialist" who is not specialized at all, she needs to have the district employ another specialist who speaks Spanish. Spanish is the number one language served in the PAUSD EL program, you simply have to hire enough specialists who are bilingual in Spanish, and then Mandarin and Korean.

Here is more text from the article:

To Meyers, the parent-liaison program offers a long-needed, tangible step toward closing the district's achievement gap.

The district has "spent years and years and countless hours discussing the achievement gap yet ... I just don't feel like there have been concrete action items. This is something that is concrete where you are specifically addressing the need of the families and the students," she said."

As far as the achievement gap, a member of the PAUSD team should never speak of the district as people in a different organization. All PAUSD employees, funded by the good people of Palo Alto through quite a bit of taxes, should be responsible for the achievement gap.

This all seems to comply with the Town Square rules, we would love to know why it would not.

Like this comment
Posted by Article
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 17, 2016 at 7:40 pm

From the article: "When Patricia Estrada's first-grade son got into a conflict with another Duveneck Elementary School student during a game of four square, the school asked her to come in for a meeting with their teacher and the other student's parents.
Estrada doesn't speak any English, so her 7-year-old son had to translate for her during the meeting."

PAUSD needs to refresh it's anti-bullying training. A basic rule or handling bullying is a school should not force a confrontation between the other child or the other child's parents. The school forced a family in a low power position (non English speaking) into a potentially adversarial confrontation with authority figures (school employees, teachers) and another family. The school needs to first figure out what happened and talk to parents separately.

"Whenever a situation arose at school, they would have to find someone who speaks Spanish — sometimes a district translator, though Corado said the process for obtaining one proved unreliable and ineffective - ..."

This says the District still does not have trained translators, even though it is the law.

The liaison program sounds great for what it is, but should not be used to replace trained translators and interpreters. Liaisons are District employees and not a trained to be translators or interpreters. Who knows what their training is. Recall the District's crack Special Education law firm took a family to court for not signing documents which they could not read because they were not translated into Spanish, although it is the law they must be translated. After the judge threw the District out and told them to go solve this, suddenly the District was able to settle and resolve things with the parents. There is a huge power imbalance between non English speaking parents. District liaisons are not qualified to translate and interpret legal documents.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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