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CHCCS Team Translates Thousands of Communications

Since March, when schools closed to in-person learning, the flow of CHCCS communications to parents, students and staff has increased significantly in both volume and frequency. The urgency of messages has also increased at times. This is hardly news to anyone who is connected to CHCCS through enrollment or employment, but it is probably news to learn the number of translation and interpretation requests filed each day, week and month: an average of 45 per day, with the highest monthly total at nearly 1,000 last October. The requests are for services in nine “main” languages, but also for others like Rohingya and Russian.

Consider the scope and types of communications going out to families by emails and phone calls, from inclement weather announcements to important evaluations and surveys to updates from classrooms, schools and Lincoln Center. Numerous CHCCS families cannot effectively receive those communications in English, and that’s where the extraordinary team of translators and interpreters from the International Welcome Center steps up, again and again.

Director of English Learner and Dual Language Programs, Helen Atkins, orchestrates the efforts among her staff of translators and interpreters when messages go out to English learning families. That staff includes two full-time and one half-time Spanish translators, one full-time Karen, and a half-time Burmese, as well as a half-time Mandarin translator. Additionally, as many as 15 contracted translators provide service in numerous languages.

The turnaround time for some requests can be extremely tight. As CHCCS Public Information Officer, Jeff Nash, said, “Sometimes it seems like I’m emailing Sandra asking her to provide translations in nine languages, in the next 60 minutes.”

The font for Burmese and Karen text is tremendously challenging to create in messages, and Atkins said translator Loyal Wai might spend hours to generate a one-page document in those languages.

Sandra Pereira has served as lead Spanish translator for many years. “Last year was a challenging time for us due to the Covid crisis,” she said. “It was a time of changes and expansion of our services. The translation and interpretation services were crucial, and parents and teachers alike reached out to us exponentially. Parents, to understand better what was happening with their kids and how to take advantage of technology to improve kids’ learning; teachers to explain the details of the new remote learning experience and the need for parents to partner with the kids in the process.”

“During last year, more and more parents felt that they needed to be on top of their kids and be fully involved in the learning experience,” said Pereira. “To this end, the translation services played a key role to link teachers, parents and kids and most importantly to keep that link alive in both directions. Day after day during countless interpretation sessions, I realized how relevant our services were for the school system to help close the gap and shorten the distance between students and teachers remotely located.”

Since COVID hit, we have had to really become more efficient in how we handle district communications requests,” Atkins said. “Thankfully we launched our Qualtrics ticketing system in February, so we were better prepared, and it allowed us to ‘react’ in half the time. In the ‘old days’ with a Google Form, Sandra had to access each request and send the documents and messages to each interpreter or contractor.” 

When there were incomplete requests or gaps, Pereira needed to track down the missing pieces before she could assign the tasks to an interpreter. Now, Qualtrics sends the requests directly to the appropriate interpreter, so that stage of the process is much more efficient. “For example, if the request is for Karen, the request goes directly to Loyal. If it's Burmese, it goes directly to Mai Mai. If it's Spanish, it goes to Sandra and Blanca,” Atkins said.

An additional complicating factor in transmitting the many messages in many languages? Different language communities tend to use different communication platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat or Facebook Live. Some families can best be reached by simple text or phone calls.

“The interpreters and IWC staff are incredibly responsive,” Atkins said.  “Over the years we have all come to realize that interpretation/translation may involve a lot more family and community outreach, and the work is certainly not restricted to the translation/interpretation alone.”

“I love this about our team,” Atkins continued. “They are a remarkable group of people whose priorities are always centered around students and their families. This goes for all interpreters, whether full-time, part-time or contracted. I was incredibly moved last spring when our whole team (including our contracted interpreters) were willing to join our team meetings and learn new platforms, like Screencastify, and then use those very platforms to make tutorials for parents. They knew the critical nature of the work and they absolutely had a positive impact on the way we reached families.”