Riverside-Brookfield High School launched a bilingual automated phone system in January after Paulina Carmona (above), student rep to the District 208 school board, suggested it late last year. | Courtesy of RBTV

Last November, Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Paulina Carmona was on a college visit to Smith College in Massachusetts. Her mother, an immigrant from Mexico who doesn’t speak much English, tried to call the high school to report her daughter’s absence from RBHS but had trouble understanding and navigating the school’s English only phone system.

That gave Carmona an idea. 

“I figured it would be a good idea to add a Spanish option, considering that our district is 39 percent Hispanic,” Carmona said.

The following month Carmona met with RBHS Principal Hector Freytas and suggested that the school establish a bilingual English/Spanish telephone system. A few days later Carmona, who is one of two student representatives to the District 208 school board this year, mentioned her suggestion at the school board’s Dec. 13 meeting.

Freytas and the school board agreed that it was a good idea and when the second semester began on Jan. 9, RBHS had a bilingual phone system in place featuring the voice of Alberto Jaquez, one of the school’s deans, for the Spanish-language option. 

Freytas, whose first language was Spanish and is bilingual himself, gave credit for the quick installation of the bilingual phone system to the school’s assistant director of technology, David Fischer, and the school’s phone company.

“I want to give a shout out to my IT team, Dave Fischer, who’s been instrumental in working with our phone company to get the new system set up,” Freytas told the Landmark.

Freytas pointed out the school’s website features Google translate, which can translate the website from English into more than 100 other languages.

“We’ve been striving to bridge the language gap for years, even prior to me,” Freytas said.

Carmona said she is happy that the bilingual phone system is in place and that other Spanish-speaking parents won’t have the same experience her mother did.

“It feels great because I guess I don’t want any other family to struggle,” Carmona said. “Since our district is increasingly Hispanic, I think it will benefit a lot of people. I think it will just give students and parents more access to parts of the school that I think everyone should have access to, like attendance, and it’s great to know that Dr. Freytas and the administration actually takes into account students’ opinions.” 

Also at the school board meeting last November, Carmona suggested that the school send out surveys in both English and Spanish.