Daisy Garcia Montoya
Staff and community members in the Kansas City Public School District (KCPS) are attending free English and Spanish classes to gain the skills to communicate with their families.
In late September, KCPS made a public announcement on their Facebook page detailing the opportunity for free classes for parents and staff who had the interest in learning either English or Spanish. Since then, classes have taken off with a full class of 23 eager students, made up of staff and community members.
Becky Nace, Director of Professional Learning and Federal Programs and Diane Bosilevac, first ever World Languages Coordinator, saw a need for classes in English and Spanish among staff and community members and wanted to offer teachers the opportunity to participate in classes so they could better communicate with students.
“There is a desire among our employees to learn other languages and Spanish is the most popular language that staff members want to learn and there’s also community members who would like to improve their English and so we were able to offer these classes,” Bosilevac said. “The classes were capped at 23 but we would like to do more of this and hopefully again next year.”
The classes are taught by Guadalupe Vargas, a teacher at George Washington Carver Dual Language Elementary, a KCPS elementary school that teaches students in both Spanish and English to increase biliteracy.
Bosilevac said that staff wanted to increase their ability to communicate with families and saw this as an opportunity to further develop professionally whereas families wanted to learn English to engage further with staff in regards to their children’s education.
Since staff and community members have the common goal to better understand and communicate with one another, Vargas tailors the language classes with this idea in mind. “For example, those learning Spanish, they’re primarily wanting to communicate with their families. So they’re learning vocabulary surrounding school but it’s tailored to the needs of the students,” Bolsilevac said.
For Nace, this was an opportunity to not only increase world languages within KCPS families and communication among parents but also a way to provide professional development and learning to staff.
“KCPS has a policy that whenever our teachers attend any kind of training or things outside of the contract day, that we pay them a stipend so Diane asked me, ‘If we had them come to these classes, would this qualify for the stipend?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely, I think it would, it’s professional learning and certainly something our teachers are able to use to communicate with our students better,” Nace said. “When you learn a language, other than your first language, you also get some kind of sensitivity to that culture.”
Nace shared her own experience with her daughter who attended Foreign Language Academy and learned Spanish throughout K-8th grades. “We really felt that having her have a second language would really help her get a leg up on her future and her employment,” Nace said. “What ended up happening is she was in a melting pot of kids from all over the city and she really just immersed in that culture. Now she’s 31, a licensed master social worker and uses both languages everyday in her day job.”
Witnessing the benefits of language immersion firsthand through her daughter and her career development, Nace wanted to provide that same type of professional development to staff in KCPS. Although learning a language may not first appear in one’s mind when they think about professional development, Nace says that it does constitute as such because it is still professional learning.
“I really came at it from the lens that any type of learning that is helping us be better at meeting the needs of our students, helps me relate to students or make them feel more welcome in our classrooms, enables me to communicate with the parent without a translator or using a student, I think that is professional learning,” Nace said.
The classes are offered twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour, with English and Spanish classes offered separately. The course, which officially started on October 3rd, will run through December 7th for those who are currently enrolled.
“It’s all about making our stakeholders feel comfortable in our schools so if it’s parents, students, community members, whatever we need to do to help in that way. It really does take cooperation and collaboration across several departments to get something like this going and I think we’re doing a good job in doing that so hopefully we can expand it as we go on as long as there’s interest,” Nace said.