The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) Welcome Center for International Students sign stands out against the white wall it’s on for two reasons: the multi-colored font and over 50 different languages all saying one thing: "Come in, you’re welcome here."
The center is trailer number three at the Lincoln Center, but it’s so much more than just a room with meeting space and offices. It’s a centralized unit created to assist parents and students that have other languages in their lives.
In the words of English learner programming and translations services coordinator, Helen Atkins, the services that are offered go beyond face value.
“Our preference is to always think of our interpretation and translation services from the standpoint of fostering strong relationships with families,” Atkins said.
The full-time interpreter team includes Spanish interpreter/translators Sandra Pereira and Blanca Dominguez, and interpreter/translator for Karen and Burmese, Loyal Wai.
The team provides a multitude of services to families in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Families that have a second language and need to speak to school officials will submit a “ticket” request for a phone call, face-to-face meeting, parent night or document translation. The team of three interpreters averages 600-800 ticket requests a month, Atkins said.
The job requires an incredible amount of time and is full of surprises and unexpected turns. If there is an emergency at a school, such as a lockdown or inclement weather, the team has to immediately spring into action to get information out to parents. In the words of Pereira, the day just isn’t enough.
“Sometimes we go home and finish up work, because the schools need it,” Wai said.
Wai translates and interprets for both Karen and Burmese, which requires him to switch back and forth between the two languages when working.
“I like the way you keep your brain active,” Wai said. “For example, for me, I’m doing two languages at the same time, plus the way you type is totally different.”
Along with keeping the brain active, the interpreters said they like to work because it connects them with families in the area.
“I’m brand new as a full-time person, and it’s a big load of work, but I like it,” Dominguez said. “There are some people that get up every day and don’t want to go to work because they don't like their job. I get up because I really like my job.”
The group acts as a liaison between families and educators and, at the root of it all, it’s the children that are most affected. Atkins said that there is a direct impact on students' lives.
“When you’re dealing with a family, you can’t just leave the family behind,” Wai said. "It’s kinda tough that you are in a position where most people are depending on you. Helping people is nice."
Families in the community rely heavily on the team. In the words of Atkins, the group has an incredibly crucial role in the lives of students in CHCCS.
“The reality is we would come to a screeching halt without the folks that interpret and translate for us,” Atkins said. “We would come to a screeching halt in a minute.”
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