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WE Innovate – Jacob Wismer ES Translator Tree

At Jacob Wismer Elementary School, everyone is one big family.  But this wasn't always the case.

"Jacob Wismer chose "unity" as its school-wide theme this school year.  Our school song is "We're All a Family, Under One Sky," yet we knew that we were not effectively communicating with all of our families when we have 31 different languages spoken and our newsletters and school communications go out only in English," says Joan McFadden, Principal.

Through research, Joan and assistant principal, Tracy Bariao-Arce, determined that most of the families in the school spoke English in addition to their native language, but there was a small population of Japanese and Chinese families that required translation services and were unable to understand the school and PTO newsletters.  

To solve the problem, Joan and Tracy decided to think outside the box and turned to their parent community. Joan put a request in the school newsletter for any bilingual Japanese or Chinese parents who would be willing to translate the newsletters and distribute them to the families who need them – creating a Translator Tree.

Two parents, Byron Wong and Jane Hoh, generously agreed to translate abbreviated versions of the newsletters and important SchoolMessenger communications into Japanese and Chinese and distribute them to a list of families who need them.  

Byron, who is not a native Japanese speaker, but did live in Japan for two years, does an initial translation of the Japanese.  "After I translate the abbreviated newsletter or message, I work with three native Japanese moms who edit my grammatical, cultural, and word choice errors, then we send it on to all the other Japanese-speaking families," says Byron.  "The translations give us an opportunity to translate not just the language, but also the cultural and school expectations as well."

"The first time we realized the Translator Tree was working, was when all of Japanese students showed up to school on "Super Hero Day" all dressed up in the most amazing super hero costumes.  They didn't participate before. Now, they feel like they are a part of the community – our family," says Joan.