With students across the state transitioning to remote learning, the responsibilities of teachers and support staff haven’t ceased.
That comes with the expectation of ensuring all students, including students who live in homes where English is not the primary language spoken, can continue learning despite staying at home.
Those students may qualify for English Learner support services in the Burlington School District. For years, the school district has employed multicultural liaisons, supporting students and families with limited English proficiency as they navigate the school system.
But the number of requests for the district’s 11 multilingual liaisons has quadrupled since schools shut down toward the middle of March.
Cultural liaisons, often trusted members of their respective communities, continue to support New American students and families, helping students access class materials, translating information on the virus, and distributing school lunches.
“The job right now is not to establish new relationships, but keep those old relationships going,” said Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, the district’s English Learner (EL) director.
During the first two weeks the school district was closed, EL teachers and liaisons were mostly in “emergency mode” — calling households and providing information about the pandemic.
“There were a lot of ways in which we were well set up to do this, but nobody predicted anything like this.”
Through an initial round of phone calls to households, liaisons and teachers were able to determine which students didn’t have access to laptops or needed technical support.
“Every family who requested one has been able to receive one, but not every individual child,” said Ehtesham-Cating, who teamed up with other district leaders to send out Chromebooks to households across the district.
‘I’m the one in the middle’
For parents such as Thu Le, the pandemic brought challenges both for herself and her sons.
“The first couple days, my two children struggled online,” said Le, through her interpreter and BSD multilingual liaison Son Do. After some calls between her son’s teachers and Do, Le was able to acquire a Chromebook for their household.
There are around 550 students who are eligible for English Learner support services in the Burlington School District, but more than 900 students live in households where English is not the primary language spoken.
Even before the pandemic, Do and other liaisons have been in regular contact with families, on call 24/7 to help with academic support or resource navigation.
“I’m the one in the middle to help them out,” said Do, who has worked as a liaison for Vietnamese families and students in the school district for two decades.
When Le and her sons arrived to Vermont in 2018, within a week he helped them get enrolled within the school.
“I have to be aware of who’s in need, who’s coming. I have to contact everyone.”
Making a difference face-to-face
As remote learning continues, teachers and liaisons contend with keeping students engaged and parents involved. One teacher in the English Learners program opened up their Google Hangout sessions earlier to give students a chance to socialize with their friends.
“In a lot of cases just being able to see a teacher’s face makes all the difference,” said Ehtesham-Cating.
Le says she’s appreciates the communication the liaisons and teachers have had with her and her children, and hopes that it continues.
“Just connect with my children, make sure they’re doing well.”
Contact Ethan Bakuli at (802) 556-1804 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BakuliEthan.
All coverage of the coronavirus is being provided for free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Free Press.
Read or Share this story: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2020/05/01/cultural-liaisons-english-learner-teachers-respond-remote-learning-needs/3048370001/