Chances are if you are reading this column right now, you read English pretty well. But many students in the San Francisco Unified School District have families who are still learning to read or speak English.
Imagine this: What would your parent-teacher conference be like if you didn’t speak the same language as your child’s teacher? How would you get involved in school governance or volunteering?
Here at the SFUSD, we don’t just translate our most important written information; we seek out ways to ensure that language is not a barrier to home-to-school communication.
As much as we share information through schools about how parents can access language support, I suspect there are some who may not know the steps they can take.
I’m hoping you’ll spread the word to parents you know who may need some help communicating with their child’s school. Here’s what they need to know:
A staff ready to help
First off, we have a very busy central office department called the Translation and Interpretation Unit that works as a bridge of communication between English-learning families and their children’s schools. They also provide this same bridge for events at the district level. Many schools also have staffers on site who are able to assist non-English-speaking families, such as parent liaisons and/or administrative support staff.
While we are fortunate to have many bilingual staffers who can communicate in the primary languages spoken in San Francisco, our students’ families speak more than 40 languages at home, so sometimes parents and school staff do need to plan ahead to have multilingual conversations.
Translation vs. interpretation
Here’s something not everybody knows: Translation is the term for written material, and interpretation is the word for verbal situations. For example, our School Times newspaper is translated by the TIU before the paper is printed. But if it’s a parent-teacher meeting, our TIU staff works to interpret what is being said in real time to parents. As you can imagine, sometimes educators and parents aren’t always using the same terms, so our TIU staff has its own glossary of terms translated into plain Spanish or Chinese, and it is available to the public on our website.
Your input helps
What if a parent wants to do more to support his or her child’s school (or all schools) by participating in councils and committees? All Board of Education meetings have interpretation available in Chinese and Spanish, and other languages are available by request.
There are also advisory groups that specifically address the needs of students who are English learners. Each school with 21 or more English-learner students has its own English Language Advisory Committee. At the district level, there is a parent advisory group called the District English Learners Advisory Committee that helps to plan and assess services for English-language learners.
If you know someone who may need translation or interpretation services for the English-learning families at your school site, please go to www.sfusd.edu and click on “Translation and Interpretation” under “Services” for more information.
Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.