MVRHS committee approves interpreter certification course

The high school committee approved a new course that will certify students and community members as interpreters. – MV Times file photo

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee met Monday and appropriated $10,000 for a pilot program that will provide training for graduating high school seniors and interested community members who are bilingual to become certified Portuguese interpreters.

The committee heard from English Language Learning (ELL) director Leah Palmer, who described the growing need for interpreters, citing an ELL population growth of nearly 300 percent since she became director in 2012. With that comes a higher need to communicate effectively with the Brazilian community, she said.

Currently, there are about 220 students across the Island schools participating in the ELL program, 98 percent of which are Brazilian, Ms. Palmer said. There are six certified interpreters available to help the schools, all of whom have full-time jobs and aren’t always readily available to act as interpreters during parent-teacher conferences, Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, and Child Study Team (CST) meetings.

“This has been a hard piece for us because we can’t get enough interpreters,” Ms. Palmer said. “Looking at our high school students and seeing the bilingual ability that so many of our high school students have, we thought this would be a great opportunity to give them career advancement and also an opportunity when they’re in college to have a way to make some money.”

The Art of Medical Interpretation is a 60-hour training course. It would be offered on-Island from March 12 to June 18, with classes mainly on Saturdays. The class is also being utilized in Brookline, Brockton, and Cambridge schools. The program will be offered to students for free, and to community members for $500.

Participants must be a current senior at the high school or an adult community member, due to a stipulation that participants must have graduated from high school prior to certification. They must also be fluent in both English and Portuguese, and complete a language screening prior to beginning the course. To complete the course, participants must take an exam to receive their certificate of accomplishment.

Ms. Palmer said it’s a serious course that will provide valuable professional and monetary opportunities.

“This is a very intensive course, so they go through many different aspects of interpreting,” Ms. Palmer said. “It’s not just hearing someone say something and saying that same thing; there’s so many different components to it.”

High school Principal Peg Regan said they are hoping for 20 participants to be trained and act as translators on Martha’s Vineyard. School guidance director Mike McCarthy said utilizing the students, who have an understanding of the high school, would be a great resource.

“I think some of the kids will be back on the Island, and we would be able to utilize them,” he said. “Sometimes we bring translators in and we have to explain to the translators what this means in high school speak. That sometimes slows the process.”

School committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury suggested adding a stipulation that participants must give back a number of hours of translational services to the Island. Many agreed that would be a good idea, in an effort to make it a good investment.

In other business Monday, on Mr. Manter’s suggestion, the committee discussed an alternative way to utilize excess and deficiency funds. Last year there were about $877,000 of the leftover funds appropriated from the towns. The school can legally use 5 percent of the fund each year, and has previously used it as necessary to cover various unbudgeted costs. Mr. Manter suggested annually putting 50 percent of the funds toward Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB), which covers benefits for retired employees, and 50 percent toward a stabilization fund for school facility improvement work.

The school has about $29 million worth of accrued OPEB liability to pay off, and the committee recently voted to increase its annual budgeted payment from $150,000 to $200,000. Mr. Manter’s proposal had general support from the committee, but some had questions about the details, including how its utilization affects credit ratings. Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea said he was comfortable with using a portion of the money to fund OPEB, but at a lower percentage, and he said his plan is to work building maintenance into the actual budget. The committee agreed to hold another discussion at next month’s meeting.

Additionally, Ms. Regan said they are in the process of reapplying for the Massachusetts State Building Authority grant process. The high school was not accepted into the program this year, but was encouraged to reapply. The Tisbury School was accepted into the program last week. Ms. Regan said they are pulling specific details and language from the facility studies conducted over the summer and fall. She said there will be another “state of the facility” presentation on March 3 that will focus on the vocational program and facility.