MONROE — Julia Chambers was the only person in the room who understood everything that was going on.
The Colombian-born interpreter sat between first-grade teacher Amy Stimac and parent Clara Gutierrez at Fryelands Elementary School.
Gutierrez understood English fairly well, but spoke little. Stimac spoke no Spanish. It was up to Chambers to bridge that gap.
Chambers took the part-time job as an interpreter one year ago with the Monroe Public Schools. Now, she is among the nearly two dozen interpreters used by the district.
“I get called maybe five or six times a month,” she said.
Chambers’ job may have sounded like an oddity decades ago, but today, many school districts in Snohomish County say interpreters and translators are just another part of doing business.
Kevin Hendzel, a spokesman with the American Translators Association based in Alexandria, Va., said the reason for that shift can be attributed to President Bill Clinton’s executive order in 2000. That federal mandate required schools receiving federal aid to provide translation, addressing the written word, and interpretation, for oral remarks.
“If you go back 20 years, if the parents didn’t speak English, there was simply a communications gap,” Hendzel said.
While the executive order may have formalized the need, many local districts said they already had the practice in place. The services have been used in Mukilteo, Lake Stevens and Granite Falls for as long as anyone can remember.
In Everett, the school district put a policy in place about three years ago to formalize its own approach to translation and interpretation.
Now, some letters to Everett students’ homes are drafted in five different languages — English, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Vietnamese. The district’s automated phone-call system also leaves messages in preferred languages.
“It’s the most important way we have to ensure our families are part of the education process,” said Mary Waggoner, an Everett School District spokeswoman. “Without that involvement, we don’t have the connection.”
Waggoner said she remembers schools in Wenatchee translating items into Spanish in 1992. The services are more common now, however, she said.
Chalk that up to the increased diversity of Snohomish County. Virtually every minority group has grown in size in the past decade.
None boomed as greatly as the Hispanic population. According to the U.S. Census, the county had 28,600 Hispanics in 2000. By 2008, the most recent year with data available, that number leapt to 47,100.
Monroe has felt that growth. At Frank Wagner Elementary School, for instance, the school posts messages on its outdoor reader board in both Spanish and English.
Interpreters also are a regular sight.
“Their use has become more common as the community has grown and families have moved to the area that have different native languages,” said Rosemary O’Neil, spokeswoman for Monroe Public Schools.
First-grade teacher Stimac said she always has at least one parent who needs an interpreter during conferences.
“Some years I have five or six,” Stimac said.
The conference between Stimac and Gutierrez on March 25 went smoothly. The teacher was sharing good news. David Gutierrez, who was born in the United States, was doing well in virtually every subject. His mother left the conference beaming.
That led Chambers to also smile.
“I feel very proud to be able to be a part of that,” she said.
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455; email@example.com.