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Recent growth of Spanish-speaking families in the Bozeman School District has prompted a local nonprofit to hire a new position to embed in the schools and help those families settle into the city.

The Spanish-speaking parent liaison position will continue the partnership between the Bozeman School District and Thrive to connect families to community resources.

Thrive has parent liaisons in every Bozeman school and the new position will specifically serve Spanish-speaking families in the district.

The nonprofit hired Isabela Romero on a two-year contract that starts Aug. 23. Romero, who is from Lima, Peru, said she was looking to give back as she’s completing an online master’s program.

“I was looking for ways to help the Hispanic community here since I’m Hispanic myself,” she said.

The immigration process can be hard for a lot of families and she hopes to help them feel connected to each other and Bozeman as a whole, Romero said.

“My hope is to bring them together and to know that they’re not alone here,” she said. “And local people are super open to meeting them.”

The population of English learners in the district has steadily grown in the past five years and the growth didn’t slow during the pandemic, according to Ellen Guettler, the English learner program coordinator with the district.

While the district doesn’t collect data on why families moved to the area, anecdotally, Guettler said, the construction and tourism boom in Big Sky and throughout the Gallatin Valley had drawn a lot of the families.

“For many of our English learners, this is has been a place of opportunity for them with the (job) opportunities we have here,” she said.

By the end of the school year, there were 240 English learners in the district. About 66% were from Latin America, 20% were from Asia and 14% were from European or African countries, according to Guettler.

The needs of the English learner students can vary, Guettler said.

“If you’re coming in as a middle schooler learning English, its going to take a bit more time because the content is a higher level,” she said. “You’re not just learning social vocabulary but that academic vocabulary too.”

There are different programs throughout the district to help meet students where they are. One of them is the newcomer program where students get small group instruction and structured language support for half of the day. The other half of the day, the students are in their regular classes but with additional language support as needed.

The newcomer program is in Sacajawea Middle School and Gallatin High School, and serving about 20 students in total, Guettler said.

Guettler, whose position is designed to work with students and teachers in the school, said the bilingual parent liaison would be a “powerful addition of support” for the English learner families in the district.

“It’s going to free up my time to really focus on the academic support because the families’ social-emotional needs will be more fully supported by the parent liaison,” Guettler said.

Carrie Gilbertson, executive director of Thrive, said while the district works to provide students with the academic support they need to be successful, the parent liaison can work to best support the whole family as they get settled in Bozeman.

Gilbertson said they wanted someone who not only spoke Spanish but could build trust with the families so they felt comfortable reaching out when they needed help, like assistance navigating mental health support.

“We were really wanting to have someone who is not only Spanish-speaking but is bicultural too,” Gilbertson said.

Some of the challenges for the Spanish-speaking families living here are daycare needs for single moms who are working, learning how to navigate public transportation that’s primarily posted in English and getting adjusted to the region’s colder climate, Romero said.

“The big needs for parents right now is giving them information and giving them access to the information in their language,” Romero said. “There are not a lot of people that are fluent in both English and Spanish and can translate.”

Accessible and affordable English language classes at times that are available for working parents would help many of the parents, Romero said. With Thrive’s planned move to the Red Chair building, there would be more room to hold classes, too.

There have also been talks of doing activities for the parents to help them get to know Montana, like exploring the outdoors or a holding a women’s circle so mothers can share their experiences and build connections with each other.

Often people aren’t even aware of the amount of people who are from other cultures in Bozeman, Romero said. This is something she hopes to change too.

While Romero said she hasn’t personally experienced intolerance from people in Bozeman, when she does speak Spanish in public she sometimes gets looks from people or questions about where she’s from.

“I want people to have more tolerance for people and cultural differences, to understand what Hispanic culture is and what the differences within it are,” she said. “To create a harmonious place for our Latin culture and American culture to exist.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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