Translation Center’s Trailblazing Efforts to Improve Language Access Services in Schools

In early May, the Translation Center’s assistant director Lara Matta hosted celebrations to honor 75 bilingual school staff who completed two different workshop series to improve language access services in schools. Thanks to the support of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), this opportunity was made available to staff from 26 districts, representing 16 languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Cape Verdean, English, French, Haitian Creole, Khmer, Kiche, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Twi and Vietnamese.

NEWS Translation Center Certificate Celebration
Participants from the Interpreting for Special Education Workshop Series celebrate receipt of their certificates with assistant director Lara Matta, graduate students Irina Lifszyc and Aitor Bouso Gavin, and workshop leader Laurence Ibrahim Aibo.

In the Interpreter and Translator in Education Workshop Series (WS1), participants learn about the standards and procedures of interpreting and translation in addition to the larger context of language access in schools. The Translation Center awarded 54 certificates of completion. Another certificate celebration honored 21 participants who completed the Interpreting for Special Education Workshop Series (ISE), which prepares bilingual school staff to interpret in special education settings.

The May celebrations continue the Translation Center’s previous work with bilingual school staff. In March, the Translation Center awarded certificates of completion to 45 WS1 participants and 20 ISE participants from 23 districts, representing eight languages. During the event, the invited speaker Jennifer Love, Supervisor of Language Access and Engagement for Prince George’s County Public Schools, reminded the group to “..., continue to be a visionary, in the same spirit in which you were drawn to this program …, it is not enough to know that you’re going somewhere, but always keep in the forefront– what will you do when you get there?”

The workshops are led by faculty and language access professionals. The Translation Center hires graduate students to support workshop leaders and participants offering them practical experience in one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing industries in the world. Their participation also gives them exposure to non-academic career paths, a noteworthy experience given the lack of academic departments of translation and interpretation at U.S. universities. Staff and language experts from the deep roster of translators and interpreters at the Translation Center also support the workshops.

Regina Galasso, director of the Translation Center and associate professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Studies Program, is the designer of the structure of the workshop series in consultation with DESE, school staff, and individuals with experience leading language access services in schools. Her vision is inspired by the plurality of the workshop participants, who come together from different districts, positions, languages, backgrounds, and experiences. In most cases, each workshop in a series has a different leader to highlight the range of execution and articulation of translation and interpretation, thus inviting participants to build confidence to bring their own style to the practice while upholding professional standards and ethics. She also insists on the use of the term workshop to honor the participants’ contributions since many have already been providing these language services with little formal training. There is currently no certification for school interpreters as there is for medical and legal interpreters.  

Galasso is grateful to Stephen Zrike, who first approached the Translation Center in 2018 while receiver/superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools, to develop a series for the district. Zrike continues to dialogue with Galasso about initiatives to improve language access in schools as the current superintendent of Salem Public Schools.

To date, the Translation Center has awarded certificates to about 400 individuals who participated in DESE-sponsored or district-specific workshop series and looks forward to future collaborations with schools near and far. Since not every school district is the same, the Translation Center works to understand each district’s profile when designing a workshop series. The workshops are one example of the language access support services that the Translation Center offers to schools.