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School Registration Poses Challenges for Families Relying on Translators

Cass Herrington
Peoria Public Radio

Peoria Public School students are enrolling for the new school year at several open registration events through mid-August. The new “hub” system aims to make the process quicker by computerizing all student paperwork, well before the first day of school.

But on Tues., the new enrollment process was a lengthier for Hispanic families who needed bilingual assistance.

Three of the five enrollment hub locations have a translator on site to guide Spanish-speaking families through the registration process. At Manual Academy, four Hispanic families arrived at about the same time to enroll multiple kids. Most of the families have multiple students in different grades, enrolling at more than one school.

“The main issue we’re finding today it’s a language barrier, and we only have one translator here. We have four to five families right now that all speak Spanish, and I don’t speak Spanish, and my other helper doesn’t speak Spanish.”

That’s Nicole Mayer. She’s manning the front desk, where she directs families to a computer station with instructions on how to register. That’s where bilingual teacher Mariela Meneses is assisting two families at once.

Both sets of parents are having issues logging on to the registration program. Meneses flutters across the room to get new login information from Mayer at the front desk, then darts back and forth between families trying to register their kids.

“About sixty percent of the parents and families that have come on the first day, they have been Hispanics. So we do need more than just one person,” Meneses said. 

Part of the dilemma is the software is entirely in English. Meneses says, in some cases, the concepts are completely foreign because the parents had different educational experiences

“It’s new to them too. Their kids are learning, but the parents are also learning.”

Meneses says in some cases, parents have bigger stumbling blocks to manage. 

“Sometimes, it’s also that they are not very capable of filling out forms, even in Spanish, so that’s also where we come in,” Meneses said.

It took more than an hour for Mariela Meneses to help register one family with three kids. She stayed after her shift to make it happen. Still, she says, she doesn’t feel like they got proper service:

“Because I think I was helping five at one time, and I couldn’t," Meneses said. "Some of the families, I lost them, and they relied more on their kids to help them, which is something they’re used to.”

She means, parents often rely on their kids not just with English, but also technology. Or in one instance, someone to inject a little humor:

“It’s been fun honestly. I’m the one that’s laughing, but they’re stressed out,” student Perla Cortez said. 

Cortez will be in eighth grade at Manual this year. Her family’s spent about an hour trying to register her three siblings.

“They can’t get back in the computer and just want to go home. It looks like you guys need more translators,” Cortez said. 

Later that afternoon, ten Spanish-speaking families arrived about the same time. The translator working that shift, Cesar Vargas, says the parents and kids were gracious -- he says there aren’t many other options, short of adding more translators to the registration days.

The next enrollment day is Thurs. from 8am-8pm at Manual Academy, Peoria High School, Richwoods High School, Lincoln K-8 and Peoria City/County Health Department.