The meeting, requested by Lead Student Organizer Tewodros Kassahun during a public hearing in early February, was a youth-led and driven step towards raising awareness among decision makers about the issues English Language Learners face in DC Public High Schools. Part of the organizing work SMART takes on in schools and district-wide is keeping government agencies accountable to abiding by the Language Access Act of 2004, which requires agencies with high public contact to provide interpretation and translation services to limited- and non-English proficient District residents.
D.C. Public Schools is one of the many agencies that needs to be held accountable for providing interpretation and translation services. Despite the passing of the Language Access Act of 2004, the majority of SMART members do not see the act implemented in their schools. Not having interpretation and translation services in schools affects students and their families, especially when entering the school and attempting to communicate with security guards, at the main office trying to communicate with front desk staff, during parent teacher conferences, and during student's one-on-one meetings with their counselors. Parents who do not speak English have been made fun of, insulted, made to wait hours before being asked to return another day, and completely disregarded.
Before the school year ends, SMART members also intend on meeting with Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the Office of Bilingual Education in hopes that DCPS will take into consideration some of the students' simple and low-budget recommendations for making the experience of English Language Learners less alienating. Chancellor Kaya Henderson's office has yet to confirm a date when she would be available to meet with SMART. Despite having to wait a month and half to meet with Chairman Brown, SMART organizers will continue to try and meet with decision makers and help government officials meaningfully engage community members in creating positive change.
Photo Credit: Daniel del Pielago, Empower DC's Grassroots Media Project