Fairfax County Public Schools will host a free Spanish workshop tonight on preventing students from succumbing to gang violence. It will be hosted by Fairfax County schools and the Northern Virginia Family Service, a nonprofit dedicated to providing services to migrant families and families of color.
The 6:30 p.m. virtual event is part of a range of efforts initiated by the school system to improve multi-lingual services. As the county becomes increasingly diverse, the schools have a larger goal: To make its wraparound services more inclusive for non-English speaking parents in its community.
Tuesday’s workshop will dive into why young people are susceptible to joining gang violence and what they can do to help prevent it. A gang prevention coordinator with Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court will also speak to parents.
Kate Reen, director of youth initiatives at the Northern Virginia Family Service, said the webinar is an opportunity for parents and educators to be on the same page regarding gang-related issues that impact students.
“Schools are hugely influential in a young person’s life,” Reen said. “We want to work in a coordinated fashion with their life at school and their life at home.”
Reen said her nonprofit hosted the same workshop in English in March. But she thought it was essential to ensure these workshops are language accessible.
“I think it can be challenging if you’re not sure who at the school speaks Spanish or who doesn’t — or to know what interpretation resources are available in our school,” she said. “And so, a lot of it is looking out for our Spanish-speaking parents. We want them to have the same information that our English-speaking parents have received.”
Fairfax County schools officials announced they will host six more workshops this fall in partnership with other local nonprofits, with topics ranging from social screening services for students to stress management resources.
Renee LaHuffman-Jackson, coordinator of Fairfax County family and school partnerships, said her office chooses the language of each webinar depending on the topic and resources available.
“We may have an offering of one thing that may be in English, but then we have some offerings that are in Spanish, or only Korean or in Arabic,” she said. “It just depends on the topic.”
LaHuffman-Jackson could not pinpoint how many people went to past workshops because attendance ebbs and flows, she said. Parents can also attend the workshops after they occur by watching them on YouTube, she said.
However, she said more people had used the school system’s general parent resources since COVID-19 broke out over two years ago.
LaHuffman-Jackson said the school system had these workshops for years, long before she joined the staff seven years ago.
LaHuffman-Jackson also mentioned the school’s phone line. The office also manages a phone line where parents can call and speak to someone in eight different languages:
“Ever since COVID, it’s been booming,” she said.
Many students come home to non-English speaking households, county data shows. According to the county website, nearly 40 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home.
Donna Sabino, a science teacher at Oakton High School, said she saw firsthand the diverse languages students spoke outside the classroom.
“It’s not a monolithic sort of ‘Everyone speaks the other language, which is Spanish,’” she said. “It’s not at all. I have Arabic speakers. I have students that speak Turkish at home. I have students that speak Farsi at home.”
Sabino said she used Google Translate sometimes when she would email students’ parents. Sometimes, she would be able to coordinate a translator to attend a parent-teacher conference.
“The kid has the advantage that they can acclimate fast because they have school, but I think the parents are really at a disadvantage,” she said.
Sabino tries to build an environment where non-English parents can be involved in a student’s education, just as engaged as English-speaking parents. But resources such as the workshops and the phone line are essential to making it happen.
“What I mean, but if the school or I engage the parents, I usually find that it’s helpful,” she said. “I mean, we’re all looking for the same thing: we want our students to do well. And they want to be a part of their kids’ learning.”
Parents can register for the Tuesday night workshop on the Fairfax County Public Schools website, where they can find more information about resources in different languages.