High school helps students in the Bronx overcome language barriers in remote learning

Community Health Academy of Heights.Front View
Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHA) which has helped kids overcome language barriers during COVID-19.
Courtesy of Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHA)

Being shuttered at home and learning virtually is a challenge for many students citywide.

But for those in the Bronx, which has a large immigrant population, at-home learning may present a unique set of challenges.

Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHA) in Washington Heights caters to kids from Brooklyn, Bronx and Washington Heights and is comprised of mostly bilingual students and non-English speaking parents.

Knowing this, roles have changed during the pandemic. Teachers have become translators for parents whose primary language is Spanish and students have done the same.

Jamie Gabriel, program director for the middle school, told the Bronx Times about 95 percent of the students at the school are immigrants. She explained the transition to learning remotely has not been easy.

“Kids are acting like translators and students at the same time,” Gabriel said. “We’ve been working really hard around the language barrier.”

While parents are laid off or risking their lives by going to work, many are not used to being in a position to have to help their children with school work, she explained. Knowing this, the school has been accommodating and sent assignments and emails in Spanish to the moms and dads.

“Parents are now teachers on top of being parents,” she said, “It’s created a lot of stress. They’re handling it, but something will be sacrificed.”

Gabriel noted that teachers’ accessibility has expanded. Whether it is before or after school hours, they are there if needed.

But, overall the kids have done well, Gabriel said.

“We’ve been able to create a really strong community,” she remarked.

Laura Genao, a senior of the south Bronx Courtesy if CHA

One student who has dealt with the challenges of having parents being non-English speakers is Laura Genao, a senior of the south Bronx. At first she was worried about learning from home, but now, the soon to be nursing student at Lehman College said it has not been as bad as expected.

Her parents, Raul and Mary, who are natives of the Dominican Republic, struggled to help her, but once the school communicated with them in Spanish it was a big boost. She noted that sometimes her parents get frustrated when they try to help her but she knows they are doing the best they can.

“CHA has been great translating work for my parents,” Genao said. “At least I have the advantage of being bilingual.”

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