Batesville students break through language barrier

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - The Hispanic population has grown immensely in Region 8, according to recent census data.

In Independence County, six percent of population is Hispanic. That's about 2,200 people.

In the Batesville School District, more than 650 students are bilingual, and most did not know a single word of English before they started school.

"It was kind of really hard for me because I didn't speak any English," junior Kenia Lopez said. "There was some people that helped me a lot to go through learning English."

These helpers are her dedicated teachers and classmates. The district immerses its Spanish-speaking students into regular classrooms, and teachers use various techniques, like visuals, to connect English words with Spanish words they know.

"They take it slow so I can understand it and get better at it," junior Irina Morgado said.

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers then meet with students one-one-one to focus on problem spots, but they do not have the same help at home.

"To my parents, I talk Spanish," senior Gloria Armendariz said. "My dad knows more English than my mom, but it's still not a lot."

However, all of their homework is in English. Students said this doubles or triples the time they have to spend on work.

"We don't know some of the words that other people know so it's more difficult for us," Lopez said. "I try to read slow, do everything I can to try to understand it and have my good grades."

These girls can now speak close to fluent English.

"When you learn English, I think it's easier to speak in English," Lopez said. "The words are shorter."

Occasionally, students said their sentences will consist of a mixture of English and Spanish words.

"It happens a lot because sometimes you forget some words in English and then you remember in Spanish," Lopez said.

These girls said their hard work has paid off.

"Most of the English speakers have said, 'We wish we could speak Spanish and English because it's really helpful,'" Lopez said. "We can do more than one thing. It's an advantage for us to have both languages."

Students said these advantages include more opportunities for college and careers.

Another advantage is acting as translators for their parents.

Lt. Mike Mundy with the Independence County Sheriff's Department said the language barrier can be confusing, but also life-threatening.

Lt. Mundy said it typically takes longer for the department to respond to emergencies from Spanish-speaking callers because most patrol officers only know broken Spanish.

The department does not have enough money in its budget to employ a full-time translator.

However, Lt. Mundy said the department uses the younger Hispanic generation, like these Batesville students, to break down the language barrier.

"Most of the children are attending public schools so they do speak English, and they're actually pretty darn good at it," Mundy said. "If necessary, we can use the children, just to get an understanding of what's going on in the primary investigation."

Mundy said their help- on top of being respectful and understanding of the Hispanic culture- has produced amazing, crime-fighting results.

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