BUFFALO, N.Y. – Buffalo Public Schools is struggling to serve a student body that speaks 85 different languages, and administrators hope a team of multilingual staffers is the solution.
“In the past, we would have done our best to communicate with the family, either through another family member or sometimes a student,” Mark Frazier, BPS director of student registration, told The Buffalo News. “We did our best given the circumstances that were given, but definitely recognized the growing need to provide face to face translation services.”
District officials recently opened a multilingual placement center to help foreign speaking students assimilate in the school district, and hired six cultural specialists who help translate for families in the top six foreign languages used by students: Somali, Burmese, Spanish, Karen, Arabic, and Nepali.
The Welcome Center sign greeting new students at 33 Ash Street is translated into eight languages.
“The City of Buffalo has taken in thousands of immigrants and refugees in recent years, and it’s reflected in many of its schools. More than 85 different languages are spoken throughout the district, but that number may change by the day,” the News reports.
“English language learners now make up 15 percent of the district’s enrollment, and as a whole, they are among the lowest-performing, state figures show. They also are the fastest-growing segment.”
The BPS website shows the district’s Multilingual Education department employs 14 including instructional coaches, typists, research aides, language assessment specialists, cultural specialists, social workers, teachers and an assistant superintendent.
“When they see someone that speaks their language, it makes them feel more comfortable,” Abdi Yakub, a language specialist, told the News.
“In response to their growing numbers across New York, the State Education Department made revisions in its regulations last year forcing districts to improve services for the many multilingual students struggling to make it in the public school system,” according to the news site.
In the six months since BPS opened its Multilingual Student Placement Center, specialists like Yakub have served more than 1,000 English Language Learners coming into the school district, TWC News reports.
The center’s supervisor, Finune Shaibi, told the news site the foreign students flooding into the district come with varying educational backgrounds.
“One thing we know is that if a child comes to us with a formal education and knowledge, academic knowledge in their native language, that when they come here it’s just a matter of transferring that information,” Shaibi said. “Now if a child comes to us with no formal education and has never been in school, we know that that education process is no longer about transferring.”
The multilingual center helps assess the students to gauge their proficiency in academics and English and places them in schools that can best cater to their situation.