Mary Zapata and her fifth-grade daughter, Victoria Jimenez Zapata, faced many challenges when they left Venezuela for the United States a year ago.

Victoria, 10, left behind her father and younger sister. They were trying to learn a new culture. But learning to speak and understand English was the most difficult transition.

“The language was one of the most complicated things,” said Mary, speaking Spanish through translator Gloria Galloso.

“She can’t express herself,” Galloso added.

When Zapata enrolled Victoria at Valleyview Elementary School on the top of the hill, she was pleasantly surprised that the school had a bilingual family ambassador – Galloso – to help provide two-way communication and direct people like her to the school resources.

“I was new to school and had a lot of questions that I couldn’t ask, so I was able to call (the bilingual family ambassador) and a lot of my questions were answered,” said Zapata.

Bilingual Family Ambassadors Debut at Columbus City Schools

Gloria Galloso is a Bilingual Family Ambassador at Valleyview Elementary School.  The district has 12 bilingual Family Ambassadors in a dozen schools this year who speak Spanish, Somali and other languages.

This is the first year Columbus City Schools has had bilingual Family Ambassadors.

About one in six families in the district live in a home where English is not the primary language, so the need for such a program was high, said Scott Varner, executive director of strategic partnerships and family engagement. of the district.

“Now we are able to really focus on supporting our families,” he said.

Bilingual Family Ambassadors work alongside traditional Family Ambassadors who serve as a liaison between school and home and connect families to community resources. This is the sixth school year the district has had Family Ambassadors.

“One of the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic is that household stability can be fragile,” Varner said. “And the needs of our families at home can quickly derail many of our students’ academic progress, so we’ve been really pleased to offer these supports.”

The neighborhood has 12 bilingual ambassador families in a dozen schools, including eight schools on the West Side. The languages ​​they cover include Spanish, Arabic, Somali, and Maay Maay.

Columbus school officials said they hope to recruit more bilingual Family Ambassadors in the coming years, Varner said.

The district was able to use funds from the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund to create the Bilingual Family Ambassador program. The ambassadors, who are under contract with the district, like a salesman, work 20 hours a week and earn $25 an hour. So it’s an investment of about $19,000 per ambassador for the entire school year, Varner said.

Making a Difference for Families at Valleyview Elementary School

Gloria Galloso, a bilingual Family Ambassador for Columbus City Schools, speaks with a Salvadoran mother during a recent morning drop-off at Valleyview Elementary School.

Galloso, originally from Mexico, has worked with the Zapata family since the beginning of the school year.

“Mary was really grateful,” Galloso said. “She found it helpful that we could communicate with her in her own language.”

There were school days when Victoria would break down in tears, Valleyview principal Pamela Artrip said.

“Mum was doing the best she could, but having someone who could say, ‘You’re on the right track’, it really made a huge difference, I think, for our students as well as our families.”

Galloso was able to tell the Zapata family about community resources such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and various counseling services.

“It’s nice to be able to have someone right there,” Zapata said.

In addition to helping the Zapata family, Galloso consults with approximately 20 families in Valleyview each week to provide assistance with mental health, emotional well-being and school support.

English learners make up a large segment of students at Valleyview

Nearly a quarter of Valleyview students – 71 of about 290 – are learning English, Artrip said. Families with students at school speak 19 different languages ​​at home, and students speak about 14 different languages, she said.

“Having someone to be able to help with (the language barrier) has really been amazing,” Artrip said. “I think it really reduces communication issues.”

Prior to the Bilingual Family Ambassador program, Valleyview staff and teachers relied heavily on Google Translate, which was not always perfect. Sometimes the translation was not quite correct or there was a WiFi problem which slowed down the translation process.

“I think the families that we have need more support because of the language, we’ve been able to have someone who is able to focus on them, and I think that’s been really important,” said Artrip.

This story is part of Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which has visited Northland, Driving Park and Hilltop and is now in Whitehall. Visit our reporters at the Whitehall Branch Library of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and read their work at dispatch.com/mobilenewsroom, where you can also sign up for The Mobile Newsroom newsletter.