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Multilingual services expanded; advocates say more are needed

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

School officials are assuring families of English language learners that their language needs will be better met this year through an expansion of services and staffing. Organizers from immigrant communities say more support is needed.

The District has opened eight Parent and Family Resource Centers and is widely publicizing a phone line where non-English speaking families can find translation assistance.

According to Ludy Soderman, director of multilingual family support, the District printed thousands of language service request cards to make it easier for parents to get assistance in their native language.

“We have also put out a flyer intended exclusively for School District personnel so that they know how to assist families that require services in another language when no bilingual personnel is available,” Soderman said.

The Translation and Interpretation Center opened at District headquarters, and four Welcome and Enrollment Centers for Multilingual Families have also been established.

One welcome center is at District headquarters. The three others open this fall in the parent resource centers in North, Northeast, and South Philadelphia. At the centers, students will be assessed for language proficiency and academic level. Families will also receive assistance with social services.

Deborah Wei, newly appointed director of multilingual and curriculum programs, said the District is also working to address concerns around academics.

“I’m hoping to bring [in] some of the practices that we developed in curriculum and instruction in how teachers both push in and pull out, and how parents’ language access needs to be addressed,” Wei said.

Zac Steele of JUNTOS, an immigrant organizing group based in the city’s Mexican community, said, “There have been improvements in the quality of delivery of services,” but added that the District needs more multilingual personnel at schools rather than relying on translation by telephone.

“It is much better for parents to connect with a person at the school, somebody they can see, when they want to talk about their kids,” Steele said.

Steele said this is especially important for non-English speaking parents when trying to help their children with their schoolwork.

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