By Paige Watts
Five years ago I was hired to teach Spanish at Morris Innovative High School and, most importantly, was asked to have my students use their Spanish. I was teaching several native language speakers, as well as students who were Hispanic and knew Spanish, but were embarrassed to speak their native language. Being that I was raised in Mexico, spoke fluent Spanish, and had several community connections, I began to see a way I could involve my students and have them use their Spanish skills.
This is when The Translation Academy was born.
In 2013, I began having my bilingual students go to our local elementary schools and interpret for parent conferences and family nights. Given that our school system is over 50% Hispanic, parents and teachers struggled to communicate. Parents gladly welcomed any assistance, and teachers were thrilled to have support and someone other than their students to conduct conferences. Health fairs were another way we were able to use both languages, as oftentimes health advocates were unable to share information with those who needed it most. After starting with school conferences and health advocacy locations, I looked for other ways to involve my students into their community. Around that time, our two high schools began receiving large numbers of Central American unaccompanied minors.
These students were needing to learn English, and to do so quickly.
In 2014, Morris Innovative High School began the Newcomer Academy, and my Translation Academy students—who were fluent in both English and Spanish—jumped in to help. The iTranslate students, or The Translation Academy students, began teaching these high schoolers English. Not only did my group work with the older students, but we also started working with several elementary school students who were new to the country. While we were involved with working in our elementary schools, I met a parent coordinator who taught non-English speaking parents English, three times a week. Most of these parents were Hispanic, so my students began joining in to teach them English.
The experience of working in the community and having hands-on experiences was so powerful that I looked for other opportunities for my students to give back while using their bilingual skills. This desire has led to the iTranslate students being involved in planning a job fair for the school, working with Hispanic leaders in the community, being a think tank for the Chamber of Commerce, as well as working alongside of the Dalton Public Schools Central Office. During their time in the Translation Academy, students realize their value to the community, the vast opportunities that are available to them, as well as how to pursue their future goals.
Students feel empowered and grow while taking the series of classes offered. They meet with prominent Hispanic leaders, are engaged in authentic experiences, and see the importance of education. While being bilingual is necessary, the most important lesson learned throughout this Translation Academy class is that showing empathy, kindness, and giving of one’s talents is the greatest way to empower oneself and others.
Paige Watts is a guest blogger for GPB Education and has been a teacher for 18 years in Dalton, Georgia, in the Dalton Public Schools district. She has experience teaching 4th-5th grades, middle school, and high school. She is currently the director of the Translation