Increased Latino School Enrollment Boosts Need For Registration Volunteers

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Every year, La Paz Chattanooga supplies Spanish speaking volunteers to the Hamilton County Department of Education to aid in the student registration process. As the Latino population across the Chattanooga area continues to increase, so does the demand for these interpreters. 

To kick off the 2012-13 school year, La Paz has been called on by the public school system to provide more volunteers to more school sites than ever before.

"For more than half a decade, we have called on our volunteer network to help Spanish-speaking parents enroll their students in Hamilton County schools. This year, these volunteers are in more schools than at any point in the past, and our interpreters will be working more hours than ever before," said Stacy Johnson, executive Ddrector at La Paz Chattanooga. "This trend points to the booming Latino population in Chattanooga, and the corresponding need to establish programs that adequately engage them."

In early 2012, the Maclellan Foundation commissioned a study investigating trends related to the area's Latino community. Sources cited in the study include the United States Census Bureau, the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, and the Hamilton County Department of Education. All of the statistics point to a fast-growing population segment, for which the study makes the recommendation that "bilingual staff should be increased at the main public schools, at all levels," as well as providing "cultural training opportunities... to all faculty and staff."  

According to projections provided by the Census Bureau, Chattanooga's Latino population will approach the 25,000 mark by the year 2020 -a growth rate surpassing 700 percent over two decades.

"It seems that school systems are the first to experience the impact of a population shift," said Anne Shelton, volunteer coordinator at La Paz. "I believe this increased call for interpreters reflects a rapidly changing student body. We have some of the most incredible volunteers at La Paz, and we are happy to help the school system. Looking forward, though, I anticipate that it will become more difficult to meet these needs unless a language program is set in place to keep up with demand. As it stands now, by generously volunteering their time and talents, I would estimate these volunteers are saving the education system at least $25,000 in fees. That number will just be a fraction of the cost in years to come."

The greatest need for bilingual English-Spanish interpreters is at the elementary school level. To sign up as a Spanish speaking volunteer with La Paz Chattanooga, email Ann Shelton at ashelton@lapazchattanooga.org.

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