ROCK ISLAND — Students and families in the Rock Island-Milan School District speak 31 different languages from 33 different countries, and it's Annette Moreno's job, as a translation coordinator, to arrange interpreters for all of them.
Moreno, of Bettendorf, has built a list of 27 people she can call on to provide translation services for Arabic, Burmese, Chin (Hakha), French, Karen, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Lushai, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tedim, Tigrinya and Wolof speakers.
She faces a myriad of issues every day, basically "anything you can think of that happens to kids at school," she said. Situations can range from students, or their parents, calling in sick, to arranging for parent-teacher conferences or special-education requests.
"The average day is there is no average day," Moreno said. "Everyday is different," and she loves it and the challenges it poses. "I wake up enjoying work every day."
She also relies on the Rock Island Arsenal Bridge to avoid the entire Interstate 74 bridge project.
Her job is "a learn-as-you go mission," to provide for the educational and medical needs of all students, Moreno said.
"Annette is a crucial person in our school district," communication director Holly Sparkman said.
Moreno, who has been the translation coordinator since 2005, speaks fluent English and Spanish along with a smattering of the other languages that she says she has picked up along the way from the various interpreters she has worked with over the years.
The certified community interpreter says that her psychology degree, as a Head Start educator, helps guide her way on the job.
"We are a district of nations," she said, pointing to a sign on a wall behind her. "We're here for all students. It's my joy to make sure they all understand everything."
One of the lessons she has learned over the years is that "when you work with people coming from different parts of the world, a given in that part of the world is not a given here."
Undergarments, for example, may come as a surprise for some newcomers, she said.
"You might not think about having to wear a coat, long-johns, gloves or boots." The fact that everybody has to learn how to deal with the weather can be a real eye-opener, Moreno said.
"Even looking at a bathroom stall and explaining what the purpose of them are," can pose difficulties, she said.
"Yet, it's important to know that we are more similar than anything else," Moreno said. "Just because they speak a different language doesn't mean they don't feel what we feel. It all makes us more of the same, and it's wonderful to see the all the differences, as well."
Moreno said she's come to love pronouncing African names, and that many people shy away from saying them because they often are long and contain more letters than they're used to saying.
"They go by surnames and are named after a circumstance but don't take paternal names," she said. "They also are generous when it comes to find out about all the mistakes we make."
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