School need for interpreters growing in Dubuque district

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — The number of students with limited English proficiency who are enrolled in Dubuque's public school district has increased over the years, and at least one administrator wants to expand an interpreter program to keep up with the growing demand.

Students in the English language learners program for the Dubuque Community School District speak more than 20 different languages, including Tagalog, Russian, Arabic and Marshallese. The program helps families better communicate with school officials, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported ( ).

The number of district students with limited English proficiency has increased over the past 10 years from 98 students to 265, according to district statistics. Program coordinator Lorilee Hamel said there are limited requests for the service, but she expects that will change in the future.

"We may not have a huge need now, but I would like to be ready and I would like to be able to offer the very best to our students and families," she said.

Federal law requires that schools ensure students have equal access to a quality education, including school communication with parents in languages they understand. Through federal funding, interpreters are paid $20 per hour.

Gustavo Oropeza, an adjunct professor of Spanish at the University of Dubuque, is one of three interpreters for the district. He and the others offer services to parents during parent-teacher conferences and during meetings to determine individualized plans for special-education students.

"A lot of these (parents) are very humble," he said. "They listen to you very carefully. They appreciate, definitely, the help."

Hamel said 53 percent of students in the program speak Marshallese and Hispanic students are the second-largest group at 22 percent. She said she wants to have Marshallese interpreters and more Hispanic interpreters.

Chris McCarron, principal at Prescott Elementary School, said the service is vital for instances when parents may not fully understand a conversation or they might need help effectively communicating their concerns.

"(District interpreters) really become the voice of the parent," she said.


Information from: Telegraph Herald,

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