Posted Date: 10/06/2022
At just 15 years old, Mayra came to Arkansas City High School not knowing any English. Her parents were dedicated to giving their children a better life and Mayra was committed to learning the English language so she could stay on track in school. Thanks to her fierce determination and the help of some compassionate adults in the building, she did just that. Now, Mayra is one of the district’s helpful staff members.
“I moved here as a sophomore in high school but was told if I didn’t learn English and catch up, I’d have to start back as a freshman,” Mayra said. “I was a straight-A student in Mexico and being held back was not an option I was willing to accept, so in just one semester, I learned English and went on to graduate with my class in 2006.
Of course, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Mayra didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language and was often bullied because of her appearance and other cultural differences.
“I was placed in regular classes full of kids I couldn’t really communicate at all with,” she said. “I also wasn’t used to switching from class to class. It was hard. I cried the first day and the first semester was really tough with all the extra hours I had to put in to be successful.”
Thankfully, her ESOL teacher was kind and helpful. She stayed after school with Mayra to help her with homework and to help strengthen her English skills.
“She would stay with me for an hour and a half after school to help me catch up. I knew she wanted me to be successful, Mayra said. “She wasn’t the only one who cared and those teachers made all the difference.”
While in school and also working multiple jobs, she helped students who were taking Spanish. Now, she is still working multiple jobs and her experience as an English Language Learner has sparked a passion in her to help others who might be in a similar situation.
Mayra said it wasn’t just her who had a hard time adjusting to school in the United States, her parents had to adjust too. Her dad spoke some English but her mom did not, which made it harder for them to communicate with her teachers, help with homework, and get involved.
“Knowing how much my parents struggled with communication has definitely influenced my decision to be the district translator,” Mayra said. “I know my parents cared just as much about me and my education as the other parents - they just could have used some additional support.”
Now, a mom herself, Mayra provides that very support to USD 470 families by helping to translate notes from school, answer questions when a Spanish-speaking family calls the district, interprets at meetings and parent/teacher conferences, provides translation for the district’s facebook page, and much more.
“The school district has come a long way in how it communicates with speakers of other languages,” she said. “My kids attend Ark City public schools and I have the option of receiving all school-related communication in English or Spanish.”
Mayra says the district has worked hard to find ways to connect with all families. “USD 470 uses a two-way, multilingual communication platform called TalkingPoints. It’s a quick and easy way to communicate with all families regardless of their home language or literacy level; parents can even choose to have the messages read aloud to them,” she said. “The district also focuses on bringing parents in for family nights, learning more about different cultures, and involving various stakeholders in the education process.”
Her advice to other English language learners and their families is simple - “Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard,” Mayra said. “Speak up and ask for what you need - it’s OK to ask for help.”