The Bilingual Volunteer
A few weeks ago I wrote several posts about working with a child for whom English is their second language. The original inspiration for these posts was a little one that I am currently working with in our preschool classroom. Her parents speak Spanish at home so her main exposure to English is at our school. In addition, she has been diagnosed as "developmentally delayed" in both cognition and communication, creating quite the challenge when trying to communicate with others.
Although this little one does present with some significant delays, she also has excellent attention, behavior and focus, making her easy to work with and the ideal therapy candidate. At her most recent IEP meeting I increased her speech time to two sessions per week. In addition, I am now using a Spanish-speaking computer program to present vocabulary to her in both languages as effectively as possible. She looks at the pictures in a book, the computer names the vocabulary in Spanish and I say it in English to help her learn the words and make a connection between the two languages. This was our solution after working with the child for over 6 months with unfortunately no Spanish being used and seeing very little progress.
Then, about a month ago, our school received a call from a woman looking for an opportunity to volunteer with little children. Our director informed me that she passed all the necessary background checks and clearances AND she is bilingual! Music to my ears and literally an answer to many of our prayers!
It really could not have worked out more perfectly. She can volunteer on the same days this little girl attends school and she is able to be present during some of my therapy sessions. Our first session was used to informally assess the student, trying to see if we could detect a difference in her comprehension and responses when information was presented in both Spanish and English. That day, we were both disappointed to see that there was not much of a difference.
However, over the last several weeks, our enthusiastic volunteer and our little student have developed quite a bond. She spends about 1-2 hours with her in the classroom three times a week, interpreting what is happening, the teacher commands, and the curriculum. We are FINALLY beginning to see some real growth! She is "coming out of her shell" so to speak. This little girl is now starting to answer simple yes/no and "what/who is it" questions in both languages AND she is INITIATING communication which she has never done before except during snack time. Our sessions are going much better and I feel as though our time together is much more productive. This woman was the key we needed to help "unlock" this little girl's communication skills. She could provide something that no one else at the school could — her native language paired with smiles and encouragement!
I share this story to inspire you as therapists, parents and people to possibly think beyond your paid employees and coworkers to be the interpreters within your classroom. We have several adults who volunteer consistently at our school. Each person adds a dimension of love and care to the classroom that is so very genuine because they truly give out of pure heart's desire. When they have an added gift, such as playing an instrument or being bilingual, what a gift it is for both the teachers and therapists and, of course, the children.