Iris Guardiola has learned many key things in several years working as a translator for the San Bernardino school district. Jokes get lost in translation. Education jargon is tough but not impossible to relay to Spanish-speaking parents. And an interpreter must translate whatever is said, no matter how harsh.
“It’s not easy, but we’re ready for it,” Guardiola said. “We are ready with dictionaries and names written down. We are ready for anything that might come up.” San Bernardino City Unified is one of several Inland school districts that offer Spanish interpretation at board and community meetings. School districts in Hemet, Riverside and the Jurupa area all provide translators, but mainly on an as-needed basis and in a less high-tech way than San Bernardino.Interpreters for San Bernardino City Unified’s community forums and twice-a-month school board meetings don black headsets and translate in real time to people wearing similar headgear.
Linda Bardere, a district spokeswoman, said the equipment cost $3,800. The average pay for full-time employees translating the meetings is $18.54 per hour. Substitutes earn $11.53 per hour, Bardere said. If a Spanish-speaking parent wants to address the board, the translator can provide side-by-side interpretation. Translators also are available for parent-teacher conferences and provide written translation for communications sent to parents, Bardere said.
The service is in response to the growing number of students in the district, and their parents, who are learning English. In 2006-07, the district had 19,321 English-learner students out of 56,602 students enrolled. Most of the English learners, 18,677, spoke Spanish, she said. “We’re just really trying to make parents and all segments of the community feel comfortable,” Bardere said. “It’s been well received. Parents and community members are thrilled to have the service offered.”
Superintendent Arturo Delgado said in a statement that the service helps bridge the language barrier. “There are few things more powerful than a parent who is engaged with their children’s education,” he said. “This service allows parents to access information that has been difficult to receive in the past.” Other Inland districts also provide interpretation but said requests aren’t frequent. For Hemet Unified School District board meetings, a staffer from the English Learner Development Department attends the meetings and translates as needed. But the occasions have been few, officials said.
Diane Pavia, a spokeswoman for the Riverside Unified School District, said people who need translation usually call the district or alert the English Learners Advisory Council before the school board meeting. Rather than using headsets, Spanish speakers are seated together with an interpreter recounting directly to them what the board and staff are saying, Pavia said.
Requests are not rare, but they aren’t routine, either, she said. About 20 percent of the district’s more than 43,000 students are English learners. “No district wants parents to feel like they are not welcomed or feel like they are not able to be involved,” she said. “Parents need to know that they can be involved.” Jurupa Unified School District also offers translation on an as-needed basis, with an administrator available at meetings to interpret. Translators interpret lengthy presentations to groups of parents or go to the podium with those who want to talk directly to the board.
John Chavez, who has served on Jurupa’s school board since 1975, said he provided translation years ago, largely because he was the only one serving who spoke Spanish. Chavez said if people feel they need the service, whether it is translation to Spanish or sign language, the district should provide it. The district must serve the parents and students — and get mothers and fathers involved in their children’s educations, he said. “If parents know the issues and how to help students, we in the district will be better off,” he said. “Education is not just what happens in the classroom, but what happens at home.”