Richmond Public Schools’ Welcome Center assists students, families who speak English as a second language

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The virtual start of school is right around the corner and many parents still need in-person help, including those whose children speak English as a second language.

The Welcome Center for Richmond Public Schools offers an array of services to support the district’s newcomer and non-English speaking families by informing, assisting and connecting them to school and community resources.

Last year, the public school system launched RPS en Espanol and ramped up its Welcome Center. The Welcome Center is usually the first spot for parents, not just those who immigrated here, but also those who are transferring into the school system. The center acts as a middleman, getting families acquainted with the school system before students go off to their designated school.

Amelia Castañeda is a welcome center coordinator. She’s been helping families whose children are learning English informed since RPS closed schools in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Castañeda and her co-workers have been working out of Boushall Middle School instead of their usual office in Southside Plaza.

Working at Boushall’s media center has given them more space and allowed them to follow social distancing guidelines and CDC recommendations for operating during a pandemic. At the center, they have a system going — only allowing a certain number of families in at a time and working in stations. At the first station, parents and students bring in the paperwork needed for school registration and learn about resources that are available. Then the student completes an assessment test.

While the family is registering, Castañeda asks them what else they need. Boushall M.S. is also an RPS meal distribution point, so Castañeda likes to make sure they take home food. She also makes sure the student has access to a laptop for the upcoming virtual school year.

In the past few weeks, the welcome center has registered 117 kindergartners.

“We have an array of resources and supports. We know that families don’t just come for registration,” Castañeda said.

School starts in less than a week, but Castañeda says they are still seeing families visit the Welcome Center with questions. The majority of them are Latino.

Castañeda says this is normal, given the fact that RPS has about 3,300 Spanish-speaking students. But the Welcome Center works with families of all cultural backgrounds.

“I love the fact that we can do that and offer those spaces for families, especially during this time when a lot of it is online — or virtual,” Castañeda said.

Once school starts, the Welcome Center will keep seeing families by appointment. Overall, their goal is to create a smooth transition for new families entering Richmond’s public school system.

The Welcome Center offers the following services:

SCHOOL ENROLLMENT

  • Preschool through12th grade enrollment
  • Assessment of mathematical skills for students from 2nd to 6th grade.
  • Assessment of English-language proficiency to determine eligibility for ESL services.
  • Foreign analytics assessment for high school credit.

FAMILY SUPPORT

  • Encourage all families to participate in the Family Academy which provides free training, resources and access to skills.
  • It connects individuals with city agencies and school personnel to help them advocate for their families.

ADDITIONAL SERVICES AVAILABLE

  • Assistance in completing registration forms
  • Notaries public and bilingual staff
  • Extended registration hours 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 pm
  • Once a month, registration days on Saturdays

The Welcome Center is temporarily located at Boushall Middle School at 3400 Hopkins Road. To make an appointment call 804-230- 2980.

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