the language gap

Advocates say online-only translated school guides limit choice

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 7.50.35 PMWhen students walked into the citywide high school fair last month, one of the first things they saw was a pile of colorful, phone-book sized directories listing more than 500 schools they can consider. But those guides were available only in English, as they have been for the last several years.

To some extent, New York City faces an intractable challenge in trying to give families information in their own languages. About 42 percent of city students speak a language other than English at home, and students speak 185 different languages, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The Department of Education posts translated guides to elementary, middle, and high schools online in nine of the most commonly spoken languages. But parents, advocates, and guidance counselors say not having printed versions creates a barrier for parents whose access to information is already limited.

“This sends a message that people who don’t speak English aren’t as important, because the guide isn’t available to them in the same way,” said Elsa Cruz Pearson, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project.

The department stopped printing copies of translated directories after the 2007-2008 school year. For a time, it distributed disks with translated guides but now simply makes them available for download online.

That can be a problem for immigrant families, said Pearson, who has gotten calls from families seeking translated directories. “Many immigrant parents are not computer literate,” she said. “They don’t have computer in the home where they can jump on and start downloading guides in their languages.”

And the translated guides are not always completed quickly or easy to find once they are released. As of this week, the high school directory page on the department’s website includes a link to last year’s translations, while this year’s translations can be found on a different page. And 18 out of 63 sections are still missing, including the Manhattan section in Spanish; four parts of the Arabic section, including the introduction; and the entire Urdu version.

A department spokesman said translations were made available earlier this year than in past years, and that the remaining translations would be released soon. He said that the formatting of the directory can be particularly hard to replicate in languages, such as Urdu, whose letters are written right to left.

At last week’s City Council hearing on education, several council members raised the issue of delayed translations of other documents, such as the educational impact statements the department must produce when it proposes school co-locations and closures. Chancellor Dennis Walcott praised the department’s translation unit but said translation takes time, particularly for long documents.

Megan Moskop, a teacher and high school coordinator at a middle school in Washington Heights, said department officials delivered a similar message at a training she attended last week. But, she said, barriers to information about school options undermine the system of choice championed by the Bloomberg administration. “The DOE is all about, this is about choice, it’s about choice,” she said. “But not everyone has the same access to information about their choices.”

Educators, parents, and advocates have come up with various workarounds. Moskop said her school prints a few copies of the translated guides to share with parents who need them. But that can’t happen until they are available, which is after the English guide is released — something Moskop said gives English-speaking families an automatic leg up in the school selection process.

“The advantage is that over the summer you have time to sit down with your kid and look over [the directory],” she said about using the annual high school guide.

At P.S. 253 in the Bronx, PTA President Rosalie Mendez said she plans to ask the principal to request bound copies of the Spanish translation of the district’s middle school directories. Parents at the school have been calling her to ask for translations, she said.

Pearson, the attorney at the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project, said she has seen a few some enrollment offices print out the translations, but that the copies are limited and worn out. She said the department should at least make bound copies available in the borough enrollment offices, schools, and district offices, using data that already exist to identify which languages non-English speaking parents are most likely to speak in each district.

And Josmene Guerrier, a youth organizer at the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project in Brooklyn, accompanies recent immigrants to enrollment centers at the start of the school year. She says she sees then become more assertive about their preferences after reading the directories in Haitian Creole using computers at her office.

Guerrier said she missed out on feeling the same sense of connection when she moved to New York from Haiti 10 years ago, when she was 17, even though the city was still printing translated directories at the time.

“Most of the time the information was in English and you don’t know what’s going on,” Guerrier said. “You do not understand.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.