Switch to remote learning a new challenge for Spanish-speaking families in NYC

The switch to remote learning has been a major challenge for families in New York City whose first language is not English. 

“It’s become quite an undertaking to support the students during this time because it’s not just about supporting them it’s really about supporting their whole family,” said Yvonne Stennett, founder of Community Health Academy of the Heights. 

According to Stennett, parents have suddenly found themselves thrust into the role of teacher, and they too need the proper resources to do it. 

“We have to be able to work with them and translate the information,” Stennett said. “There’s a number of steps that you have to go through before you even get to the homework.”

Teachers at Washington Heights Middle School and High School, which serves low-income and predominantly Latino students whose first language is Spanish, had to come up with a plan to reach all 700 students and their families within three days of finding out that learning would be being done remotely.

“The first struggle was definitely technology, our families didn’t have the technology available at home,” said Jennifer Villa, Dean of Community Health Academy of the Heights.

The school distributed laptops, but the next hurdle was the language barrier, making sure parents could communicate and understand homework assignments.

In order to help the process, the school has built a bilingual outreach team of ten people, composed of teachers, counselors, deans, and even after-school staff members. 

“We have to loop in their teachers and translate,” Villa said. “So sometimes they’re on a three-way call with the math teacher or the science teacher or the history teacher, translating the information to the parents and to the children.”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Community Health Academy of the Heights has continued its after-school program remotely, in partnership with Community League of the Heights. 


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