NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In a classroom at Woodbine United Methodist Church, students are learning an important skill in this growing city: they want to communicate with Nashville's Spanish speaking population.
At Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), Hispanic students make up 31% of the student population.
"A lot of families just don't feel comfortable interacting with school staff because they don't see anyone who can kind of meet them halfway or welcome them in," said Becca Blank, a former teacher with MNPS. She is now chair of business development committee for Voces de Nashville, a cooperative of women who saw the growing need for bilingual speakers in fields like education and health care.
As a Metro Schools parent, Beatriz Ordaz Ramirez struggled to communicate with her kid's teachers. She said it's not that teachers or parents don't want to interact; it's the language barrier that has created a division.
Now some of those teachers have become her students at Voces de Nashville.
"I think it opens up worlds to the English-speaking population that they can see, and that they don't realize what's going on in their own community," said Carol Odell, who is enrolled in a beginners' class.
Blank said the teachers at Voces de Nashville are domestic experts. Some examples?
"Women from the community, mothers of MNPS students who are native speakers... looking for an opportunity to use other skills in their work and develop new skills in their work besides some of the areas where they're often limited to... housekeeping, construction," Blank said.
But beyond the Spanish lessons, students are learning something else: it's about connecting with our neighbors in this evolving community.
Robert Quinn is a beginner with Odell.
"You can say, 'Well, it's on their shoulders to learn English,' but that's where Carol and I share the thought that we should at least meet halfway," Quinn said.
Classes are offered for beginners all the way up to advanced speakers. Voces de Nashville also partners with other organizations to provide group lessons.