¿Te puedo ayudar? Fifth-graders serve as school ambassadors to help Spanish-speaking students


On what can be a chaotic first day of school, a group of Margaret R. Brown Elementary School fifth graders made it run much smoother.

Each student was chosen by staff members to serve as a Brown School Ambassador to help translate for Spanish-speaking families.

As students and their families reached the sidewalk at the school the morning of Aug. 8, they were greeted by Assistant Principal Becky Davis, school counselor Karen Munson and fifth grader Isis Ortiz.

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Isis was able to ask the Spanish speakers what grade their child is in and tell them where they will go to board their bus.

“It’s a big help for the school to help the parents that don’t know what to do and their first language is Spanish,” she said. “It meant to me that I could finally help someone.”

Her sister, fifth grader Angeles Ortiz, held the front door of the Seymour school open and greeted families with a smile.

“When I realized people don’t know how to speak a different language, you want to help them and get them to where they need to go,” Angeles said. “I liked it because I get to help people and tell them where to go, and if people are lost, I can go up to them and tell them.”

Inside the school, fellow fifth graders Kayla Martinez and Aylin Zarate helped students figure out who their teacher is and took them to their classroom.

“I wanted to make them feel comfortable on the first day because they don’t know what’s going on and there are a lot of people, so they are like, ‘Do I go here?’” Martinez said. “They felt like, ‘OK, this is easy. She helped me, so it’s cool.’”

As the school year continues, the ambassadors will be there to help students and those new to the school.

“I think it’s really important because a lot of teachers, they don’t speak Spanish … so they need more help, so they take students that speak two languages and we can help them out,” Martinez said. “It makes me feel good because it makes me think like, ‘Oh, that kid knows that he can come to me if he needs help.’”

The idea of Brown School Ambassadors came from fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Regruth. When she was outside the school, she often had to have a fifth grader help her translate Spanish to English. She thought it would be a good idea to have a group of Spanish-speaking students who could help at any time.

She shared the idea with Munson and Principal Tony Hack.

“I started with this idea, and they added ideas to make it happen,” Regruth said. “I had a baby idea, and it could snowball with those two into more representation for the school. We’re planning good things for these students.”

Now that the school year is underway, the ambassadors will be a part of a new student’s first day at Brown, Hack said.

“We have students who move into our school all throughout the year, and that can be a scary thing for a student,” he said. “We will use the ambassadors to help make a new student’s first day a little easier by having our students work with them to begin to understand how the school runs and where to get help as they need it. I am sure that Mrs. Regruth will have many more ways these kiddos can ‘Soar 2 Excellence.’”

Regruth said the ambassadors could help at the school’s Title I family nights, fall festival and parent-teacher conferences, among other events.

“There are just never enough translators, so we talked about at the fall festival, people working at stations to help,” she said. “It would be easy and people would figure it out to be welcomed in Spanish and ask questions or comment.”

Making people feel they are a part of Brown is a big responsibility for the ambassadors.

“I was really excited about the opportunity to work with our current students to help make new students to Brown feel welcomed,” Hack said. “We are so proud of the great things that are happening at Brown, and any time we can make a new student or family feel welcomed, we want to make that happen.”

Hack said school is the foundation of so many wonderful things in a young person’s life, and all staff members want the experience to be as positive as possible from the very beginning.

“We all appreciate a warm welcome when we enter a new or different environment, and our school works very hard to make that happen for our families and their students,” he said.

Plus, it benefits the ambassadors because they can practice their Spanish and English and build confidence in talking to others.

“Showcasing our students’ strengths is always a good thing for our school and our students,” Hack said. “It was an easy decision to help our students develop leadership and kindness skills that will serve them well.”

The ambassadors are easy to spot at the school, as they wear yellow shirts with “Can I help you?” in English and “¿Te puedo ayudar?” in Spanish on the front.

“If you have to walk up and you saw people and they were offering to help you in Spanish, certainly you would feel more welcomed if you were able to speak your native language that you had mastered and you knew you were good at,” Regruth said. “I just wanted people to belong. You want to walk up and feel like, ‘Oh good, this is my place, too. My kids will be fine here. If I leave my kids here, there are people who speak Spanish.’”

Regruth was proud of the ambassadors on the first day of school because they stepped up and helped everyone, whether they speak English or Spanish.

“They have this gift of being fluent in two languages,” she said. “I tell them all the time, ‘Never stop speaking Spanish — never — because you could get a job when you grow up just because you speak both. I always encourage that.”

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