Every month this school year, BMORE will be placing a spotlight on a different PSRP (Paraprofessional & School Related Personnel, "para") to highlight their amazing work. PSRPs are leaders who make classrooms go, and are the most underappreciated educators in Baltimore City Public Schools.
The second in our series is Daniel Solomon, an ESOL paraeducator who is a parent liaison/translator at Moravia Park Elementary School and Patterson High School, as well as where ever he is needed across the district to help students and families that speak Tigrigna (Eritrea) and Amharic (Ethiopia). Mr. Solomon came to the USA in February 2010 as a refugee from Eritrea. He has been working in Baltimore City Public Schools since January 2011. Here are some condensed excerpts from our interview on October 26th.
How did you get into teaching?
I was a teacher in my home country of Eritrea. I taught high school math. Then there was a bloody war between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the border land disputes, where 80,000 people died. I ended up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia from 2003-2010. In the refugee camp, I taught math classes and was a leader. I got resettled in Baltimore in February 2010 and became a community leader with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC helped me get a job with BCPSS in the ESOL department as a parent liaison/translator in January 2011.
What do you do as a parent liaison/translator?
I help students academically in grades 3-12 in two schools with large refugee populations. I work with ESOL students by helping the ESOL teachers and general education teachers by pulling out students and teaching them at their language level. For the more advanced ESOL students, I push into the classroom and help them. I have a bachelor’s degree in math and my teaching experience back home and in the refugee camp helps me.
I was hired specifically to work with ESOL parents to help communicate between the school and families and as a translator for Tigrigna and Amharic speakers. I contact parents about information from school (field trips, ESOL paperwork, helping the nurse contact parents, helping the general education or ESOL teacher contact parents, intervening in bullying cases). I go to other schools in the district by request for meetings, interpretation, or any event.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The parents call after school hours, they call me at night even after 10pm. They need help figuring out mail that they receive, going to appointments, and navigating American culture. As a community leader, everyone reaches out to me to help with personal problems. Since I live with the community, I am seen as a problem solver for school issues and beyond.
What do wish other BCPSS staff knew about ESOL parent liaisons/translators and ESOL families?
We are closely working with our parents because it is not only a language problem, but the parents often do not have an educational background or are not literate in their native language(s). To know more about the cultural background and for refugees the trauma, cultural shock, and the hard journey from a refugee camp to come to America. It is very hard to adjust to the USA, especially because the families are in survival mode. So the families depend on us and we are their voice. It is best to contact the parent liaisons/translators so we can contact the parents because we have established a relationship of trust.
How has Baltimore City Schools changed over the years of your work?
Now there are more and more schools with ESOL students and the district is improving with how to help ESOL students and their families. For example, they are empowering parents by offering English language classes, workshops, food, and other supports for parents.
What supports do you wish you had that you don't currently receive from your school, the city, or the union?
To give more trainings about how to empower the parents so they are not as dependent on us and how to support their kids in America, which is different than their home countries. Also trainings like Restorative Practices to work with problematic behaviors between the ESOL kids and American kids. Awareness for American kids about ESOL so they know why these kids are here from another country and how the language barrier affects their behavior, so they understand why they act out by hitting instead of using their words.
What do you think about a PSRP to teacher program?
I would like there to be a program for becoming an ESOL teacher. Especially an ESOL math teacher. I would like support figuring out which classes I need to take and the tests I need to take.
What keeps you coming back to work for BCPSS each year?
My passion is teaching the students and seeing their successes and graduating from high school. It motivates me to keep working with the students to see their academic successes. For example, I helped an ESOL student become school president, other ESOL students have had the highest GPAs in the school, and even became the valedictorian! So that motivates me to keep working with Baltimore City. And to see the success of the parents learning English and getting jobs. I also enjoy working with the after school programs run by Refugee Youth Project (RYP) and Soccer Without Borders (SWB) and teaching kids to play chess.
I love my job!
Moravia Park Staff on Mr. Solomon:
-With the parent liaisons/translators, there is no breakdown in communication between the school and the families. They completely remove the language barrier and cultural barrier to help our international families feel welcome at school!
-This gentleman has won the heart of the community at our school by doing more than being part of the Parent Liaison and Interpreter program. Mr. Solomon is the kind of person that goes the extra mile in everything he does.