Tucson School Program Touts Interpreter Jobs Arizona has problems keeping Latino students in high school. It also lacks Spanish-speaking interpreters for hospitals, courts and businesses. A project in Tucson addresses both issues.

Tucson School Program Touts Interpreter Jobs

Tucson School Program Touts Interpreter Jobs

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Arizona has problems keeping Latino students in high school. It also lacks Spanish-speaking interpreters for hospitals, courts and businesses. A project in Tucson addresses both issues.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

A project starting in Tucson schools might have the solution to both problems as Laura Belous reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LAURA BELOUS: Though former salsa sensation Oscar d'Leon may never know it, he's got a different job now. In Ms. Coreo's(ph) eighth-grade advance Spanish class, his old videos help teach students to be interpreters. Ms. Coreo is getting her kids ready to role-play a celebrity interview with d'Leon.

BELOUS: How was it that Cuban music influenced you so much?

BELOUS: (Speaking in foreign language)

BELOUS: (Speaking in foreign language)

BELOUS: One student plays d'Leon, another the interviewer and the third is the interpreter. These students are part of a new program in nine Tucson middle and high schools this year. Administrators hope they're also the beginning of the solution for two significant problems in the state - keeping Latino kids in school and finding a new crop of interpreters and translators to fill jobs at hospitals, courts and schools.

M: You know, what I was most concerned about was students not moving from secondary education to higher education.

BELOUS: Roseann Duenas-Gonzalez is the director of the National Center for Interpretation at the University of Arizona. She's also an expert on bilingual education. Over the last 20 years, she's seen English as a second language programs cut and graduation rates for Latinos drop. She thinks that's not a coincidence.

M: We felt that the educational system was not really valuing what students brought with them from their home, their cultural knowledge, their linguistic knowledge.

BELOUS: So Duenas-Gonzalez designed a curriculum to exploit that knowledge. It's a course that teaches bilingual kids the basics of translation and interpretation. For students like Nadia Orozco(ph), it's a familiar skill.

M: I've done it my whole life. My grandparents don't really speak English so, since I had to, you know, translate and interpret what they would say to my other cousins and stuff.

BELOUS: But for many of the students, actually studying something they've learned intuitively is harder than they thought.

M: One of the comments that you often hear from them is, oh, I already speak Spanish, I don't need to take classes anymore.

BELOUS: That's Juan Rojas, a high school administrator.

M: Then when they do the first exercises, they realize what an entirely new skill they're learning. And so, it's an eye-opener for them too. Most of them, high, high percentage of them really enjoy it and can start considering that as a career.

BELOUS: Even after a few weeks of classes, eighth-grader Adrian Lugo(ph) is thinking of work as an interpreter. He says he grew up with Spanish as his first language, but never thought being bilingual is a plus, except when it came time for report cards.

M: They had my report on my behavior and I was doing very bad. Then suddenly I just told my dad I was a good kid. I was doing my work and keeping the good job in school.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BELOUS: But now, Adrian promises he's a changed man. He and his fellow students take what they're doing seriously and a lot of them see it as a way to help their communities. That's the case for Nadia Orozco.

M: I was raised to help people, so I believe that. That took part. You just need to know a lot. But I know I can do it so.

BELOUS: For NPR News, I'm Laura Belous in Tucson.

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