Written by Jillian Lombardi
Inspiring the Language Department of Newtown High School
On February 10th, Danbury's Alternative in the Community (AIC) Spanish Speaking Intervention Specialist, Consuelo Brown, spoke throughout three class periods at Newtown High School during the language department's "World Language Beyond the Classroom Day".
Newtown High School has a School to Career program that assists the coordination of World Language Day, which has been in existence for at least 20 years. Every four years the school brings in professionals and community members who speak more than one language regularly to encourage students to continue expanding their knowledge and foreign language skills "beyond the classroom." Liz Ward, the World Language Chair, and Peg Ragaini, the School to Career Coordinator organized the program and reached out to Community Solutions, Inc. (CSI) with a request for the intention of having a bilingual CSI staff member participate as a guest speaker. The main goal was to have the speakers come in and talk to the students about how being fluent in various languages has positively impacted their career and life.
During third period on World Language Day, the classroom was filled with level three Spanish students including a mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors. The walls were covered in student work and Spanish art along with sombreros hanging, world maps, international flags, and verb tenses filling the walls - providing a rich taste of the Spanish culture.
Conseulo Brown, also known as Connie, introduced herself to the class and provided them with information about her upbringing and how Spanish has come and gone from her life over the years. Ms. Brown's family has been in the San Antonio, Texas area for the last 100 years, where she was born and raised. Her grandparents moved from Mexico and Spain in the late 1800s and because her grandparents were mainly Spanish-speaking, she was raised her whole life speaking both Spanish and English in her home. It was extremely important to her family to retain their culture and language - until she got to college, she completely stopped using her Spanish because "there was not much of a need for it."
Second Language in the Field of Social Work
It wasn't until Ms. Brown got into her field of social work that she realized how viable and what an asset it was to be fluent in a second language. As a social worker, Ms. Brown chose three goals for herself: to continue working with the Hispanic community, families with youth, and to work in an area of social work where it would be challenging to her - and through her years, these goals led Ms. Brown to her position at CSI.
Ms. Brown is the only Spanish speaking Intervention Specialist for Danbury AIC, one of six similar programs currently being run in the state by CSI. CSI's AIC programs are community-based alternatives to incarceration that provide multifaceted intervention services for offenders awaiting trial, or who are on probation or parole. Ms. Brown's specific role as an intervention specialist focuses on using educational approaches (in groups and individually) to teach cognitive skills to improve or change behaviors that have impaired and encouraged negative actions which have led the clients into criminal activities.
Ms. Brown uses her bilingual skills on a daily basis, primarily working with Hispanic and Spanish speaking clients. Due to the fact that Danbury is composed and represented by 51 plus countries, Ms. Brown explained to the students in the Danbury area, Spanish is the secondary language (spoken by 10 percent of the Danbury population) leading to a higher demand for translation services that are essential throughout the community.
Reaping the Rewards and Saving Lives
For Ms. Brown, her professional experience as a bilingual social worker has been extremely rewarding. While speaking to Newtown High School students, Ms. Brown expanded on the tremendous number of positive and life changing "Thank-Yous" she has received over the years for helping the local Spanish-speaking community. She stressed to the students that being fluent in a second language has even helped her save people's lives. Ms. Brown spoke of a time when she was working in Danbury Hospital and was able to help translate for a Spanish-speaking only couple, which resulted in her saving the life of a woman who needed emergency surgery in order to survive.
"One of the most rewarding accomplishments while working in this field has been helping make a difference in someone's attitude about life in general, especially theirs and their situation," said Ms. Brown. "I generally believe people are good and find themselves in a pickle and then make big mistakes in judgements."
Advice for Students and Continuing Bilingual Skills
Aside from Ms. Brown's discussion about the rewards, accomplishments, benefits, and steps that brought her to where she is today, she had very specific advice to offer the students of Newtown High School on their World Language Day: "Not to let embarrassment stop you when learning and pursuing another language and to continue to practice all the time. Practice. You've got to Practice, don't stop - it's the only way to learn proper pronunciation."
She highlighted that not only is it a skill that can be put on a resume, but also emphasized the extreme importance of understanding and knowing grammar. "If you don't translate proper grammar in Spanish, you can actually give a completely different message," Ms. Brown stressed. She used an example with the students of another time when she was working in Danbury Hospital and a Spanish speaking patient was misinterpreted during the intake assessment period and was sent to the psychiatric unit for three days - when the patient didn't even need to be there in the first place.
CSI's Role with Limited English Proficient Clients
CSI runs its AIC programs under the funding of Judicial Branch's Court Support Services Division (JBCSSD) who requires any of its awarded contractors to take reasonable steps in ensuring meaningful access to their programs and activities by providing Limited English Proficiency (LEP) assistance to all clients.
During any new staff orientation at CSI, all trainees have a one hour training session during their five day orientation on the policy and procedures of CSI's LEP process, as well as effective communication techniques when working with LEP individuals. After the LEP training has been completed, documentation is signed and dated by the trainee and trainer to ensure compliancy.
Ms. Brown is a member of CSI's Limited English Proficiency Committee and represents the AIC in Danbury's SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Advisory Board.
Closing Takeaway for Students of World Language Day
In conclusion of Ms. Brown's discussion with the students during Newtown High School's World Language Day, the last question asked from a student was "What has been the biggest advantage of being bilingual to you?" Ms. Brown responded, 'The biggest advantage for me is that it has been able to help me to feel more comfortable with who I'm working with, to appreciate their conflicts, where they're coming from and what it is that they're really seeking... not only because I understand their language but their culture, as well."