Latinos, Re-1 speak two languages but voice same goals
Post Independent Staff
CARBONDALE ” Roaring Fork School District leaders got a real taste last week of what Spanish-speaking Latino parents experience living amidst a language they only vaguely understand.
Between 60 and 70 people gathered at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale Jan. 13 to talk with Roaring Fork School district officials ” almost entirely in Spanish ” about how to better educate Latino students.
“You really get an understanding of how much concentration it takes to try to understand a meeting in a language you barely speak,” said Re-1 board member Peter Delany.
Re-1 superintendent Fred Wall said Tuesday night’s gathering signified the first-ever district-wide meeting that brought Latino parents and students together from schools in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
“Individual communities and schools have held their own meetings, but this was the first time we addressed this issue as a whole district in a public meeting,” added Delany.
Latino parents and students met with Re-1 administrators and the district accountability committee, a volunteer group of parents, teachers and community members, to ask questions and express concerns. By listening and learning from Latino parents and others, the committee hopes to provide the best education possible for both Anglo and Latino students.
Identifying Latino leaders a key
The meeting came out of the district accountability committee’s focus on educating Latino and Anglo students in the most successful manner. Currently, about 60 percent of Carbondale’s students are Latino. Latinos make up 20 percent of Basalt’s student population, and 30 percent in Glenwood Springs.
“The committee decided this year’s theme is how to help Anglo and Latino students learn more effectively side by side,” Wall said. “Building Latino leadership by identifying key Latino leaders ” both students and parents ” is key to this process.”
Wall said district staff asked principals at each of the district’s 11 schools to select Latino parents to come to the meeting and share their ideas and concerns with the committee.
In addition, members of Los Companeros, a Roaring Fork High School student group, served as bilingual co-facilitators, translating for both English and Spanish speakers during the meeting’s break-out discussions. Members also staffed a baby-sitting service for parents who attended the meeting.
“I’m really excited about the students’ involvement,” said Carmen Montgomery, a Roaring Fork High School English and drama teacher.
“It was a great meeting,” said Delany, who represented the school board at the gathering. “What I found most interesting is that the Latino parents raised similar questions and concerns as Anglo parents. Our lives are pretty parallel.”
Can language divide families?
Delany said Latino parents want to see good communication between schools and parents, and asked how they could become more involved in their children’s education.
“A lot of these parents, as well as many of our Anglo parents, are working numerous jobs and have limited time to get involved,” Wall added.
Delany also said a small group of parents raised concerns over “perceived discrimination.”
Wall said he’s aware how language can divide families ” a very real fear among Latino families. Spanish-speaking parents moving into the area send their children to school where they learn English, which can sometimes cause parents and children to drift apart.
“Culturally, that’s one of the concerns,” Wall said. “When the children can speak English, and the parents cannot, it can create a negative undercurrent within families.”
Wall also said he learned another cultural insight regarding the drop-out rate of Latino students, which is higher than for Anglo students.
“When Anglo kids graduate from high school, the whole world is in front of them,” he said. “They think about going to college, or living in different parts of the country.
“But Latino kids in high school who aren’t documented don’t have that outlook. A high school diploma is often the end of their dreams. Because of their immigration status or the costs associated with going to college, often they feel that finishing high school is futile so they drop out,” Wall said.
“Communication is such a huge issue”
Felicia Trevor, who conducts Latino programming at Carbondale’s Stepstone Center, said she is pleased to see this kind of interaction between school officials and Latino parents and students.
“It’s always good to get ideas out and to share information,” she said, noting that she conducted a similar meeting with Latino parents in Rifle for the Garfield County Re-2 School District.
“I’m always hopeful when I hear that dialogue is happening,” she said.
Wall said translators took meeting notes in English and Spanish, and the written accounts will be distributed prior to the next district-wide meeting, tentatively scheduled for February.
“Communication is such a huge issue, as well as how we as a school district can communicate with our Latino parents so that they feel comfortable.”
For teachers like Montgomery, the meeting is a starting point.
“We’ve come to the table,” she said. “I see us doing more of the same in the future. We need to keep talking and keep listening to come up with the best steps we can for meaningful progress.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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