Facing staff shortages, public schools in Nebraska’s largest city have turned to bilingual high school students to interpret when families talk with teachers during report card conferences.
The Omaha school district has some full-time bilingual liaisons, but students and their families speak more than 100 different languages, and more than 18,000 students have received services for limited English speakers at some time while in the district.
Lisa Utterback, the district’s chief student and community services officer, told the Omaha World-Herald that the district has about 20 students contracted as interpreters.
The students are paid $18 an hour to help with middle and elementary school conferences.
Utterback said the student interpreters are going through the same application process and training as non-student interpreters.
Three of the translators who are high school seniors have been used to translating for others.
Hser Kmwe, who speaks Karen, the language spoken widely in parts of Thailand and Myanmar, has helped translate in the grocery store after seeing someone struggle to communicate. She often translates for her parents.
Families in Pu Meh’s community often offer to pay her for her help in translating from Karen to English, but she always has refused payment.
Karen Soto translates for her Spanish-speaking family and volunteers to help other parents.