Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District News Article

Gearity Provides Extra Outreach to English Language Learner Families

Jan. 21, 2020 -- The transition to remote schooling has posed challenges for parents and students across the district and across the country. But some of those challenges are greater than others.

Heather Higham, counselor at Gearity Professional Development School, has been particularly concerned about the growing population of English Language learners at her school. “When this was all starting back in March, I immediately realized that these families can’t understand all the district emails and probably have no idea what’s going on.”

She has made an extra effort to connect with the dozen students who speak Spanish as their primary language. From delivering Chromebooks to translating school communications, it has been a major undertaking. Along with Principal Patrick McNichols and social worker Wendy Burkey, Ms. Higham has made numerous home visits, sometimes to deal with a technical issue or to deliver Thanksgiving food baskets and winter clothing or to obtain a parent signature on a required document. “The most basic things like how to log into a Google Meet are made that much more complicated,” she said.

One bright spot has been the addition of Spanish language instruction as a curricular “special” at Gearity. The new Spanish teacher Juana Cuervo has been a lifesaver. The district provides contractors to translate for families at formal meetings (such as for legally mandated IEP meetings) but now Ms. Cuervo can serve that role in an informal capacity.

Ms. Higham uses her college level Spanish skills to text or email families but with only half of them literate in any language, Ms. Cuervo is able to help with live phone calls. According to Ms. Higham, “At first, we were translating the entire school bulletin into written Spanish each week, but once I realized that not all the parents could read, we started audio-recording the translation and sending that via text instead.” 

She recognizes that none of these services can replace the informal learning that takes place when children – and their parents – are engaged regularly with others in the school and community, but is hopeful that their extra outreach will at least keep these families afloat until schools reopen in person.
Boxes Given to Families

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