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Student translators make new friends while assisting others at Pan American Championships
World Language Academy students Jaime Baeza, left, and Diego Chavez stop by the athletes hospitality tent Friday morning to chat with members from Team Chile during the Pan American Championships. The two are part of a contingent of students from the school greeting visitors in their native language.

While many are students were excited to finish the school year, a group of students from World Language Academy had an exciting weekend for a different reason.

Seven eighth-grade students were chosen to act as Spanish-to-English interpreters at the Pan American Championships sprint canoe-kayak event held at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. The event began with the opening ceremony Wednesday night, and students were on hand throughout the four-day competition since.

The students are available to help the athletes or anyone else at the park with translating and to make visitors feel welcome.

Working with potential Olympians hasn’t made the teenagers nervous or intimidated. In fact, some students say they’ve even learned from them.

“It’s been really interesting because I get to talk to them and I guess learn where they’re from and their culture,” Jaime Baeza, 14, said about speaking with athletes. “They told me a lot of words they say that in my culture I wouldn’t say.”

Carrie McGarity Woodcock is the head of world languages and global initiative at World Language Academy. She helped get the students involved in the Pan American Championships because she wanted to give them more real world opportunities to use the skills they developed at the school.

Woodcock served as the manager of language services for the Lanier Olympic venue during the 1996 Olympics and was asked by community members to arrange for interpreters for the Pan Am games this year.

“They were, of course, I’m sure, thinking adults,” she said. “But I wanted to give our students the opportunity to have a culminating event in their experience at World Language, they’re just about to leave, and then they’ll go to their different high schools.”

The students selected as translators were chosen by their language teachers and an administrative team at World Academy based on set criteria. They are Carragan Moody, Diego Chavez, Mackenzie Wayne, Mia Luciani, Denise Gonzalez, Erika Benitez and Baeza.

“They had to excel in terms of the international mindedness, they certainly had to have the language skills,” said Woodcock, noting that many of the students at the school had the language skills needed for this event.

The students also had to be able to miss school and serve as ambassadors to represent the school.

“The value of giving students in the community the opportunities to reach out and to serve the community is really important,” she said. “Language is also something that we need around here to promote more language and global competency.”

Several of the students said they’ve had to translate for others in the past too and think it’s a good opportunity to meet new people.

“I love it,” 13-year-old Moody said of translating at the Pan Am event. “It’s really fun to get to socialize with everybody. We’ve made a lot of friends from different countries which I think is really cool.”

Moody is trilingual, speaking English, Spanish and Portuguese. She, as well as the other students on site this week, have been learning Spanish at World Language Academy for eight years. She credits the school for teaching her and her classmates to be open to other cultures as well as language skills.

When Moody is older she hopes to find a career that involves interpreting or working for the United Nations. So far she’s gotten to translate at the Pan Am games and on a church mission trip to Argentina.

Wayne, 14, has had a similar experience translating for a church mission trip to Nicaragua. She also enjoys the benefit of meeting new people while translating. Gonzalez said she’s helped with translating to a parent of another swimmer on her swim team.

Although the students’ time at World Language Academy is coming to an end, and they’ll be heading to separate high schools next year, that doesn’t mean the end of their language education. All six of the students on site Friday said they plan to continue using their Spanish skills.

Gonzalez, 14, wants to be a doctor who can communicate with both English and Spanish-speaking patients.

Baeza is also appreciative of his schooling and hopes one day he will have more opportunities in the job market because he is bilingual.

The World Language Academy is a Pre-K through 8 dual immersion school where students receive a some of their instruction in English and some in Spanish. The curriculum emphasizes the study of language and culture.

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