Schools hire two Spanish translators

The Newport School Committee on September 14 approved the hiring of two additional Spanish translators, at a cost of $ 75,000, to be paid from federal funds allocated to address student learning loss resulting from the pandemic. .

The intention is to have a full time Spanish language translator in each of Newport’s public schools. The district has more than 300 pupils requiring special instruction in English and more than 250 Spanish-speaking households send their children to schools in the city. The plan is to have a full time translator in each school and they help reach the families of struggling students.

The school committee has approved two other programs that will also be paid for by $ 393,000 in federal ESSER funds. The cheapest, $ 63,000, is a seven-week pilot program called the Trust & Equity Alliance Implicit Bias Research Program. It was presented by Niko Merritt of Sankofa Community Connection in Newport, along with Dr. Kymberlee O’Brien, professor of psychology at Rhode Island College and director of the institution’s neuropsychology laboratory.

Merrit designed and championed the program, while asking O’Brien to help him with his expertise and testing experience.

“It’s a process where a student or teacher can learn more about themselves,” said the superintendent. Colleen Burns Jermain of the program, which centers on the idea that implicit biases interfere with the academic progress of students of color.

O’Brien, whose own research is part of the foundation of the program, believes interactions between teachers and students shaped by implicit biases are made worse by anxieties and stress, conditions that trigger the release of the hormone cortisol. linked to fear and defensiveness.

She described her program as “empathetic,” as she doesn’t blame anyone for having implicit biases, saying they derive from a wired tendency to react tribally to the presence of others. O’Brien described these prejudices as operating “below the consciousness of the people” and not limited to white teachers.

Each session, one per week, will involve testing and the use of analyzes of lived experiences, tested by evidence. The teachers will meet for 90 minutes, then meet the students for 30 minutes. Finally, the students will work with the operators of the program for one hour.

The cognitive and psychological functions of both groups will be tested three times during the program, using established testing protocols. They will also be tested for their cortisol levels with a non-invasive test.

These tests along with discussions of the experiences of the two groups will help everyone involved understand the role of implicit biases in Newport classrooms, O’Brien said.

She said the research supports her beliefs that a better understanding of oneself and others will reduce stress, resulting in lower measures of cortisol and leading to a more relaxed learning environment. In fact, she believes that students who no longer feel defensive in school will actually have more mental energy and capacity to learn.

But some members of the school committee were skeptical. Rebecca Bolan was concerned about the allocation of $ 250 for each participant and the $ 3,850 budgeted for food during the sessions. In addition, $ 1,500 will be spent on a ceremony to be held at the end of the seven weeks.

“I don’t think this program is ready for prime time,” she said.

James Dring and Bob Leary were concerned that the spending would be factored into future budgets, which may not receive as much federal support.

The motion was carried 6-1, Leary voting against. Dring and Bolan both said they would vote against before voting for, a change which led Councilor Kate Leonard to write in an email to Newport this week, “Becky and Dring are out of their minds.”

(In a previous e-mail to NTW, Leonard wrote that she believes the district is using students for research, that it may be illegal if only students of color are allowed to participate, and that it is inappropriate to pay participants.)

Merritt and O’Brien, responding to criticism about spending money on quality food service and the allowance, both said it was important to make students feel valued and that their time in worth it.

The school committee also approved the allocation of $ 225,000 to hire three facilitators for student engagement. Facilitators will get to know the students and their families, and learn about outside issues that affect performance and attendance. The animators will visit the houses and meet the pupils in difficulty. The three people hired will be local residents who will be able to use local knowledge to improve student experiences.

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