Walking through the Lincoln High School gymnasium, you might hear Spanish, Karen, Burmese, Somali, Nepali, Arabic, Dinka, Swahili, Kunama, Tiginya or Vietnamese as you pass by tables of families working with DMPS staff to register students for the 2021-22 school year.
Jennifer Shedd, who speaks Vietnamese, started working as a tutor 31 years ago. She moved from helping students to helping entire families as one of the district’s 24 Bilingual Family Liaisons (BFLs).
“I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) student when I first came to the United States,” Shedd said. “I know how helpful it was for me to have someone who spoke my language helping me.”
DMPS serves 6,000 English language learning students from at least 88 countries around the globe. Many of the BFL staff started relationships with families in elementary school, and now some of the students are in their last year of high school.
“It’s beautiful to be a part of it,” said BFL Salum Shabiby, who speaks Swahili. “When I step in and assist in getting a solution or point them in a right direction, it is those smiles that leave mark in my heart.”
The BFL team held events at each of the district’s five high schools over the last couple of weeks, helping more than 1,000 families understand registration and answering questions about school. Families were also offered physicals, immunizations, and COVID-19 vaccinations, thanks to Primary Health Care. Preschool staff were available to help educate them about early childhood options.
The appreciation among students and their parents and guardians is palpable.
“Families were showing their love for our staff with hugs, invitations for lunch and homemade food,” said BFL supervisor Laura McAtee. “It’s like a family reunion.”
The BFL’s Family Alliance program has empowered DMPS families with educational training programs and workshops provided during the school year. BFL Cesar Carranza, who speaks Spanish, says the events strengthen Des Moines ESL families and help them become part of the larger community.
“It is fantastic seeing our families becoming more independent and confident,” he said.
The work was slowed by the pandemic, but McAtee says she expects the program to grow again as they are able to provide more in-person events.
“We are excited and looking forward to an amazing school year. We are committed to provide exceptional support and appreciate the opportunity to make a positive impact.”
View Photos of the Bilingual Family Liaisons Registration Event at Lincoln High School