Translation and Interpretation Extends Reach of Millage Services

More than 12 percent of families that live in Kent County speak a language other than English at home – a rate that continues to increase. While Spanish is by far the most common language other than English, dozens of languages are spoken by thousands of people across the community. Kentwood Public Schools – one of the largest school districts in Kent County and one of the most diverse in the state – reports its students were born in more than 60 different countries and speak more than 80 different languages.

Programming and information offered in only English and Spanish prevents a growing number of families from receiving information about early learning and the array of resources and programs available to parents with young children in Kent County.

“If we’re going to open the door to serve more families and really be inclusive and provide equitable opportunities for families to help their kids become school ready, we need to focus on this piece,” explained Tequia Adams, supervisor with Baby Scholars at Spectrum Health.

Last year, the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage started funding translation and interpretation for programs supported by the millage. Bethany Christian Services, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, and Liaison Linguistics provide written translation and have interpreters who can join phone and video calls with families or meet in person. Thus far, services have been provided in Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Bosnian, Kinyarwanda, Burmese, Dinka, Karen, French, Nepali, Swahili, Congo Swahili, Dotyali, Amharic, Kunama, Rohingya, and Tigrinya.

“Ready by Five is committed to meeting families where they are,” said Heather Boswell, First Steps Kent. “That means providing culturally relevant early childhood services in a family’s native language.”

Adams talks regularly with families as she enrolls them in Baby Scholars, a home visiting program that helps parents nurture their child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and language development. Thanks to the interpretation services funded by Ready by Five, it is easy and almost immediate for her to communicate with no language barrier.

“It has been very convenient that we can just go online and click buttons to get the service we need. We can get someone right away to call the family and get an enrollment,” Adams said, referring to the on-demand interpretation provided by the Hispanic Center.

Adams believes that efficiency and ease of use is key, both for early childhood service providers and families. Home visiting is intimate by nature, with an early educator, nurse, or other professional working one-on-one with families in their living rooms. Having someone there who speaks their native language and understands their culture allows many more families to engage in the programming.

“They’re pleasant. They’re kind. They’re warm. They’re sensitive to the needs of the families. I couldn’t ask for a better service.”

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