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3.23.2010

interpreting stuyvesant's parent-teacher night

Here's an interesting New York Times story on Stuyvesant High School, where the Asian student population has soared to 70 percent, inspiring a volunteer interpreter program to help parents who don't speak English -- a particularly useful resource on parent-teacher night: At Stuyvesant, Interpreting Parent-Teacher Night.
Sally Liu, 26, a university graduate student in film, came because she knew what it was like to be lost in a sea of English. Lin Lin Cheng, who is 18 and studying paleontology, had some extra time during her spring break. And Ying Lin, 19, an undergraduate interested in business, had always wanted to see the inside of Stuyvesant.

At every school, the parent-teacher conference has an "Alice in Wonderland" feeling - men and women contorting their bodies to fit undersize desks, transported back to a time when they cowered before the judgment of teachers. But the Stuyvesant event is a confusing adrenaline sport on top of that, a mad rush in which strivers race to sign up for meetings with in-demand teachers who will tell them everything they need to know about their children's academic careers, provided it can be done within the three-minute limit.

For parents who do not speak English - at Stuyvesant, perhaps 5 percent to 10 percent - the process is all the more discomfiting. Stuyvesant, a school of 3,200 students, has seen its Asian population soar to 70 percent, which inspired Mr. Blumm to start asking for volunteer interpreters. Students interpreting for their own parents could be less-than-reliable sources. "You have to watch the parents' facial expressions pretty closely," said Gary Rubinstein, a math teacher at the school.
At a school where a large portion of the student population comes from families where English isn't the first language, this is a great idea. Ha, and I imagine that at some point, teachers and administrators realized that having students interpret for their parents was not necessarily the most reliable practice.