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In a short message to Santa Monica High School families last year, district Superintendent Sandra Lyon weighed in on the implementation of California’s new academic system.

“There is much discussion in the education world and many local communities right now about the Common Core State Standards,” she wrote. “Are they bad? Good? Designed to undermine the economy? Boost our standing in the global marketplace? Will they challenge students, or set them up for failure?”

The note was part of Lyon’s contribution to Viking Voice, a newsletter published approximately every six weeks that aims to keep Samohi parents abreast of school initiatives, administrative priorities, policy updates, student activities and more.

But what about the parents who couldn’t easily read it?

The link between important school news and the parents who are not fluent in English has come in the form of volunteers who have translated the newsletter into Spanish.

“Las nuevas normas del ‘Common Core’ han desatado una gran discusi√≥n dentro del mundo de la educaci√≥n y en muchas comunidades locales,” reads the translation of Lyon’s message. “¬øSon realmente malas?, ¬øSon buenas? ¬øFueron dise√±adas para debilitar la econom√≠a? ¬øO para mejorar nuestra posici√≥n ante el mercado global? ¬øServir√°n para desafiar a los estudiantes o est√°n destinados a fallar?”

The work of the translators expands on the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s efforts to improve parent engagement, which educator and scholar Pedro Noguera has pinpointed as a crucial factor in closing the longstanding achievement gaps that persist between minority students and their peers.

About 9 percent of SMMUSD students (1,020) are considered English learners, a figure that is likely higher among parents. And close to two-thirds of the district’s English learners live in Spanish-speaking homes, underscoring the relevance of what Delia Lopez and Diana Marquez-Garban have been doing for the last three years.

“There are some parents who don’t speak English, and this newsletter has a lot of news on things that are going on,” Marquez-Garban said. “Even if you speak a little English, sometimes it’s easier to read in Spanish.”

Years ago, Lopez and Marquez-Garban both enrolled their children in the dual-immersion program at Edison Language Academy. Their children then moved on to John Adams Middle School, and they’re now in their final years at Samohi.

That means that Lopez and Marquez-Garban will step down as Viking Voice translators by the end of the school year, and they’re currently looking for new volunteers to learn and take on their duties before they leave.

Typically, PTSA site officials gather the notes, stories and updates for each edition of the newsletter, then pass them along to Lopez and Marquez-Garban to translate for the Spanish version. Their tasks require several hours per newsletter.

“Spanish is my first language, so it’s been hard to translate,” said Marquez-Garban, who is of Venezuelan descent. “It’s a lot of work. And I didn’t study how to translate. But Delia and I started doing it because we would read some of the translations and they were so bad. There are sometimes things that are hard to translate because they don’t exist. Sometimes, I have no idea how to say certain things, like the names of societies or groups. Sometimes we tried to leave the names in English. We just try to make it make sense for the people who are reading it.”

Marquez-Garban said the translated editions of the newsletter make Spanish-speaking parents feel more included in an educational system that is foreign to them.

“There are cultural barriers that are hard to overcome,” she said. “For most of the countries that we come from, it’s not expected that parents have to put so much work into school activities. It’s usually up to the schools. In other countries, parents don’t do what they do here because the parents are busy working.

“[Translating the newsletter] maintains a sense of community and engagement.”

For more information about translating Viking Voice into Spanish, contact Marquez-Garban by phone at (310) 313-6805 or via email at

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