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August 7th, 2008At Mall, Multilingual Outreach

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by William Wan
WashingtonPost.com

Like the operators of any other kiosk in Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton, the Montgomery County educators had picked their location judiciously, settling on a prime spot between the food court and J.C. Penney.

But instead of cellphone trinkets and watches, their stand at the mall yesterday offered a multilingual assortment of pamphlets addressing everything from how to help your child with math homework to how to sign up for news alert e-mails in Spanish or French.

This is the face of today’s parent outreach. School systems trying to adapt to increasingly diverse student populations are starting GED classes in Spanish for parents, holding workshops to explain concepts such as physical education and PTAs, and translating their handouts into an assortment of tongues including Vietnamese and Urdu.

But making a connection can be tough. Besides the language barrier, there are cultural hurdles. Schools here can often seem bizarre and intimidating to foreign-born parents, prompting systems such as Montgomery’s to look for better ways to get face time with parents. So, yesterday, the educators hit the shopping center.

“The mall makes perfect sense,” said Eric Davis, who heads the Montgomery schools’ Division of Family and Community Partnerships. “A lot of these parents often work two to three jobs and can’t go to meetings. It doesn’t mean they don’t care or don’t want to be involved. We have to figure out ways to give them the tools to help their children.”

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