Winooski is looking at language

Published: Aug. 26, 2017 at 6:54 PM EDT
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Winooski is looking at language.

“We are looking to strengthen how we reach out and access all the communities and provide them access to our services,” said City Manager Jessie Baker.

One reason, is a tragic death. Eleven-year-old Ali Muhina drowned in the Winooski River in July. Police told WCAX at the time that a language barrier was a challenge in the emergency response.

According to the city manager, the boy’s death sparked conversations with several groups, including the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and the Association of Africans living in Vermont.

"We really rely on those relationships to make connections to different communities, whether it's going to faith leaders, or community partner leaders,” said Baker.

Winooski is the most diverse city in the state.

"About 85% of our population is nonwhite,” said Baker.

The many languages can make communication throughout the city difficult. Officials are working provide more translations of important documents, like its annual report. They say partnering with the school is vital too.

Of the roughly 880 students, 35% of those are refugees who learn English. So, more than 20 languages are spoken in the district. Superintendent Sean McMannon says they're looking to reach more kids through additional cultural liaisons.

"Those folks communicate regularly with families and they help students throughout the day with translation,” said McMannon. "Because of the increasing numbers of Congolese refugees who have been settling in Winooski and Burlington, we are hiring a full time Swahili and French speaking.”

The school also sends out translated phone messages.

As for the police department, officers continue to get training on working with diverse populations. They also use a translation service called ELSA.

"We dial up the service and they ask which language we need and they locate a translator and put that person on the line,” said Lt. Scott McGivern.

City leaders agree making the effort to learn different languages is key in making residents feel welcome and safe.