Changing district demographics lead to hiring of Arabic translator

For many years, the second most-commonly spoken language among HISD students who were learning English (after Spanish) was Vietnamese.

But a recent influx of families from the Middle East has resulted in a surge of youngsters whose first language is Arabic—and that shift has resulted in a number of changes in HISD.

In December of 2012, for instance, the district hired its first-ever Arabic translator, Assim Omran, to provide interpretative assistance during parent-teacher conferences, community events, and Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings. It also began translating documents such as the Code of Student Conduct, HISD ReCONNECT (formerly “Welcome to HISD” or “Back-to-School”), and STAAR communications into Arabic.

“Right now, he’s doing lots of interpretations for families and students at Bonham ES, Revere MS, Lee HS, and Westside HS,” said Manager of Translation Services Liliana McKean. “He also translated the International Baccalaureate @home materials for Twain Elementary.”

More than 80 HISD schools have at least one Arabic-speaking English-Language-Learner (ELL) in their student body, and 15 of those have more than a dozen. The campuses with the largest numbers at each grade level are Briargrove ES (43), Revere MS (25), and Westside HS (22), but Piney Point ES, The School at St. George Place, Sutton ES, Twain ES, Emerson ES, Briarmeadow Charter School, and Lamar HS all serve 20 or more.

“HISD has always been very diverse,” said Multilingual Program Manager Jennifer Alexander. “As a large urban district, we attract many immigrants, including those who come to attend the various universities or work in the Texas Medical Center. The economy of Houston is tied to the oil and gas industry and is home to many international companies.”

According to data from the 2013–2014 school year, after Arabic and Vietnamese, the largest numbers of ELL students in HISD speak Nepali, Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Urdu, French, Cantonese, Somali, and Hindi/Amharic (tied), in order of descending frequency.

To reach Mr. Omran or request his services, please send an email to Translations@houstonisd.org or call 713-556-6130.

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