Spanish-speaking parents get real-time interpretations during key meetings

Parent Night at the Northeast Campus Thursday had the look of a United Nations’ session.

Spanish-speaking parents donned headsets, not to tune out any noise, but to listen to the district superintendent’s and the campus director’s Parent Handbook presentation that was being simultaneously interpreted from English to Spanish by Ms. Maria Ortega, a bilingual/ESL teacher.

The words of Varnett District Superintendent M. Annette Cluff and Campus Director Twilet Alexander were being interpreted in real time, a vast improvement from previous sessions in which the presenter would speak for a few minutes, and then the interpreter would follow over  the next few minutes. In other cases, the English speaker and Spanish speaker would talk over each other, causing some confusion among the audience.  These approaches highlighted a key disadvantage: interruption of the natural flow and back and forth of an event.

“The headphones allow for smooth communication,”  Dr. Cluff said. “I can speak English without interruption. When you have to stop and wait for the translation, people lose their train of thought.”

Dr. Cluff said each of the three campuses has 20 headsets from the Audio Resource Group,  which strives to develop and perfect audio solutions to improve the listening, understanding and interpreting the spoken word. The interpreter speaks into a microphone and the signal is then transmitted to those wearing the headsets.

The simultaneous interpretation medium comes at a time when the Spanish-speaking population at Varnett has been showing steady growth and sends the message that the complete involvement of each parent is highly valued. Mrs. Alexander said 61 percent of Northeast Campus students last year came from Spanish-speaking families.

Dr. Cluff and Mrs. Alexander conducted two, one-hour sessions, one for parents of PreK and Kindergarten students and the other for parents of 1st through 5th graders.

“All the information Dr. Cluff and Mrs. Alexander gave out about the Parent Handbook were translated into Spanish and the audience really liked it,” Ms. Ortega said. “The people were happy with the information.”