Lidya’s Awesome Powerful Moving Speech

To see video of this testimony, check out 

First of all I would like to thank DC language access coalition for giving me this chance and I am very pleased to talk about what language access act means for students. Hello everyone! I am Lidya Abune and I go to Calvin Coolidge Senior High School. I am a member of SMART (Student Multi-ethnic Action Research Team). SMART works with ELL students in different high schools and we meet twice a month and discuss about important issues faced by ELL students, share our experiences and sync up to handle problems that comes in our way and blocks us from achieving what we have conceived.

Language barriers, as defined in Wikipedia, is a figurative phrase used primarily to indicate the difficulties faced when people who have no language in common attempt to communicate with each other. Language can be a major barrier in literacy when a person speaks an unwritten language and is expected to learn to read in a language he doesn’t understand. Becoming literate can be a confusing and frustrating process. Many give up permanently convinced that reading and writing are beyond their grasp. People who come to USA at an adult age when language learning is a cumbersome process can have particular difficulty “overcoming the language barrier”. It makes many students feel helpless and over-stressed because many immigrants are unable to express what they are thinking or feeling inside and also the bad experience of being alienated by some students aggravate the situation further. Some students intentionally or unintentionally laugh or mock at our accent and this hinders our motivation or confidence to communicate .The limitation of vocabulary is another problem that hinders to communicate efficiently thoughts and ideas one has.

From my own experience, I have a younger brother named Younael and he goes to one of the elementary schools in DC and I got a call from his school on Monday and the nurse told me that he had three shots that were overdue. She told me that she had been sending letters to inform us but all the letters were in English so my mother wasn’t able to understand it. Also from my school mine and my friend’s parents always get a phone call when there is a parents’ conference, if we skip classes, if we didn’t go to school but they have no idea about it because the phone calls that they receive are in English and sometimes in Spanish so they get confused. One of my friend’s parents who live nearby always call me and ask me for an interpretation when they get voice message and sometimes I don’t understand it too so even if the [language access] act is put on effect we still have to cooperate to make sure it is working everywhere.

The language access act of 2004 which was put into effect on October 1, 2004 is a privilege to be cherished and which provides opportunity for immigrants to exercise their rights of access to translation and interpretation. Because of this act, students and parents are able to participate effectively and also understand important messages and information which are announced by the school and also we benefit from public service, programs and activities offered equal to other English proficient students. We get this paramount service at no cost and no transportation is needed.

SMART club, a program of Many Languages One Voice, is working with school principals, teachers and students to hold awareness workshop so that ELL students develop their self-confidence and express themselves freely. Students who are member of SMART at Calvin Coolidge met with our principal and we discussed some of the issues that we need it to change or improve for the next year which are multi cultural learning environment, support services (more ELL teachers and counselors), credit recovery program for ELL students, safe space and also interpretation and translation service, lunch menu that are culturally sensitive or ELL friendly for example on Wednesday and Friday most Ethiopians are vegetarian for religious purposes but the school doesn’t provide vegetarian dishes so some students leave the school without eating.

SMART members have occupied ourselves with different activities like devising plays, putting posters at various schools, distributing flyers, having slogans printed on t-shirt that read “I am proud of my accent,” planning a poetry recital evenings and hosting international day which all meant to serve to break the language barrier. Language, being a sign and symbol that carries cultural elements and serve as an interactive mechanism to members of the community /society, is considered as a powerful instrument to human beings at large. I will like to air out my conviction that the success of the above activities depends upon all stakeholders. I hope your contribution is more valued.

Once again thank you!


Another Great Youth Summit from S.M.A.R.T

Another great ELL Youth Summit from S.M.A.R.T

On Friday April 15 and Saturday April 16, the Student Multi-ethnic Action Research Team hosted their second EL Youth Summit. S.M.A.R.T organizers met with ELL students from the District to discuss about problems at schools as ELL students and what actions should be taken to resolve those problems.

The students got into groups and came up with three problems they faced at school. After each group had come up with an issue, it was put into a chart and everyone had a chance to vote on the issues they wanted to be fixed the most.  They were ranked from 1-6, one being the most important.

  1. The students want a Multicultural Learning environment.
  2. The students want support services (more ELL teacher and Counselor).
  4. They want Credit Recovery Options for ELL students.
  5. Interpretation and Translation services
  6. And last but not least they want Safe Spaces

The students then proceeded to come up with actions that should be taken to fix these issues. These actions came to be known as S.M.A.R.T Action Plan. The action plan to resolve these problems are as followed:


VACSC Youth Speak Out

Below are stories written by youth from the Vietnamese American Community Service Center (VACSC). First is a letter from Hien Vu, President of the Center. Following is a collection of youth testimonies. Please read-on to also know how you can … Continue reading

Communities in Translation

Check out the video from Communities in Translation, a night of film-screenings and fun to raise support Robert Wynn’s Documentary.


This morning marked the unveiling of a proclamation designating April as Language Access Awareness Month. The proclamation was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray and was accompanied by a resolution signed by Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham declaring April 8th as Language Access Day. April 21, 2011 will mark seven years since the DC City Council unanimously passed the Language Access Act, one of the most comprehensive pieces of language access legislation in the United States. The Act recognizes the DC Language Access Coalition as a unique third party, government monitoring and compliance group comprised of attorneys and staff from community-based and civil rights organizations.

As a part of April’s Language Access Awareness Month activities, member organizations of the D.C. Language Access Coalition (DCLAC) – administered by Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) – will be hosting events across the city to celebrate the anniversary of the Act. The month kicked off with the Proclamation ceremony and an interpreters’ professional development workshop hosted by coalition member organization Multicultural Community Services, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs and the Inter-American Development Bank. Additional events held this month by member organizations include a legal interpreters training and registration for ESL and citizenship classes. Please see schedule attached.

As a grand finale, MLOV will be presenting a series of short films by local filmmakers and performances at All Souls Church at 1500 Harvard Street, NW on April 27th, 2011 at 6:30PM. The event will raise funds to complete a documentary by noted filmmaker Robert Winn, tentatively titled Communities in Translation. The film broaches the subject of language barriers in emergency response situations, focusing on notorious Mt. Pleasant fire that happened in 2008.

Tickets will be $15 for general admission and $10 for students or those with limited income. The Film screening is supported by the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Mayor’s Office on African Affairs and the Office of Human Rights. The ticket price includes one raffle ticket, food & drink, and an opportunity to meet and chat with the filmmakers. Local businesses and community organizations are also asked to contribute food or sponsor through monetary donations.

Click here to download this press release in PDF format. A full schedule of Language Access Month events can be found here.

Youth Summit

Contributed by: Yolande Zagre

On Saturday March 5, 2011, the Student Multi-ethnic Action Research Team held their first Youth Summit of the year. The summit was the St. Steven Church from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. The summit was a success. There were ESL students from some of the most troubled schools in the District of Columbia.

Students had a lot to say about the C public school system an all the struggle they are facing at school as ESL students.

The day started with the registration for the teens attending the summit. It was followed with an introduction on S.M.A.R.T and what the agenda for the day was going to be like. We then had a get to know each other exercise where teens had to introduce themselves an name one thing that was interesting about them.

We then separated from the big group into two separate groups where S.M.A.R.T organizers Fabiola Essey and Maribel Mayi gave the know your rights training with the help of our supervisors Karina Hurtado-Ocampo and Jenny Nelson.

After the Know Your Rights training, teens proceeded with having lunch. Lunch was a great time where students interacted with each other and got to know each other more.

After lunch we proceeded with getting in a big group where everyone talked about some of the problems at their schools. We then got into smaller groups where we were given a statement about the school system and in the groups we have to vote if the statement was true or not. Then we had to discuss why it is true or not and try to come up with solutions to the statement. We then got into the big group and shared our finding on the statement and the resolutions to it.

The day concluded with a reflection administered by Yolande Zagre. During the reflection students were given 3 sticky notes and on each they wrote what they learned, what they liked about the summit and what they would like to change about the next summit. Students also requested to meet once a month to discuss and try to find ways to go about the problems and try to fix them. This request from the students shows that the students like the summit and would like to keep having these meetings. The last minutes of the days, teens played a came of “all my people who” where someone would say something that is true about themselves like “all my people who are wearing jeans” and if the statement applies to you, you would get up and switch sit. During the game we shared lots of great laughs which was a great way to end the day.



Below Karina Hurtado-Ocampo (rockstar-organizer) contributes a recap of  the ELL Youth Summits. So many exciting moments! Photos to come…

Psssst, ESL students …Get Up, Stand Up!

On March 4th and 5th, twenty eight ELL student leaders from across DC came together for S.M.A.R.T’s first ever ELL student  summit, “Get Up, Stand Up”. Hosted at Columbia Height’s beloved St.Stephen’s church, this multi-lingual space was an opportunity for young people to lead the discourse regarding their needs as English language learners in DC’s public schools. The many languages and schools represented at the summit was refreshingly varied, with students speaking   Amharic, French, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Tigrinya, Kriol, and Spanish and attending Banneker, Cardozo, Coolidge, Capital City Charter, Roosevelt, and Wilson high school. Most who attended were members of their school’s S.M.A.R.T chapter or recent recipients of our SYEP fellowship.

The summits began with the usual ice-breakers as students laughed, danced, and ran across the room.  Later the group agreed on some norms to guarantee a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable participating. Afterwards two separate groups were formed where S.M.A.R.T’s youth organizers co-facilitated “Know Your Rights” trainings on language access. The groups then began discussing language access in their own schools and almost immediately and unanimously found DCPS in non-compliance with the Language Access Act. As student shared and analyzed the stories of ridicule, disregard, and contempt that often take place in their main offices, classrooms, and guidance counselors offices, overpowering emotions of anger, frustration and even solidarity began to emerge. The summit proved a success, when students not only welcomed the idea of appropriating the dialogue around issues of language access and discrimination, but also zealously articulated the changes they want to see happen in their schools as they collectively brainstormed possible solutions to many of the issues consistently faced by the majority of ELL students.

So what are our student leaders demanding from their administrators, educators, and decision-makers? The following is a sneak peak: The possibility of going to summer school to participate in intensive-enrichment classes, having schools partner with local community groups (such as LAYC) to orient newcomer students about their rights and the education system in the US, the hiring of more multi-cultural, multi-lingual staff in schools, cultural-awareness trainings to give immigrant and non-immigrant students the opportunity to understand and speak with one another freely, offering more language classes for non-immigrant students so as to foster appreciation for language learning, having important pre-recorded alerts be interpreted in their parent’s prefered language, and proactive inclusion of ELLs in after-school arts programs.  Wow, they kind of sound fierce, no!?

As an adult ally the summit was mind-blowing to observe and inspiring to facilitate: to see young people genuinely engage with the idea that they have the power to contribute significantly to their communities leaves me with an invigorating sense of anticipation. Fortunately, the group did not stop at exploring the possibility of change, but actually committed to meeting more regularly with the purpose of beginning to organize around their list of demands…and they’ve devised some serious strategies!