January 29, 2006
By Kelly Griffith
Last year, Indra Font was working in management at a local Wal-Mart while plugging away at her bachelor's degree in education.
The 28-year-old woman already had an associate's degree and was fluent in English and Spanish, so she found herself one of the hottest commodities in education today.
When she applied for a job with the Polk County School District last fall, the offers were plenty.
Wahneta Elementary School Principal Victor Duncan ended up hiring her, adding her to his growing list of bilingual educators and staff at the rural, mostly Hispanic school.
She became one of his school's "para-educators," assistants who work in the classroom with teachers providing extra help to students. Font now works mostly with students who have special needs, but her language skills are used daily to assist with the school's heavily Spanish-speaking population.
"When I interviewed with Mr. Duncan, he was telling me, 'I really care about these kids,' and he was getting all teary. He really was," she said. "He was saying, 'I want them to get it.' I'm just glad to be here and glad he gave me this opportunity."
When Duncan arrived at Wahneta two years ago, only two people on staff at the school spoke Spanish. With heavy recruiting, there are now three Spanish-speaking teachers, three para-educators, an "Alpha teacher" who instructs accelerated learners, an ESOL teacher (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and a bilingual secretary.
He uses all of them to elevate participation with parents, something everyone at the school agrees has increased dramatically, as well as to translate wherever needed in the school.
Suzanne German, an instructional support teacher, said parental involvement at the school has never been greater. She credits Duncan's attitude and work for making that happen. The school now has a waiting list of teachers who want to teach there.
Duncan hopes it all pays off to turn around the much-ballyhooed school grades -- Wahneta dropped from a B to a D last year -- that are largely based on the FCAT scores. He admits the stakes are high and the stress of the tests touches nearly everyone, regardless of what language they speak.
"Everyone feels it," he said.
Source: The Orlando Sentinel