Contributed by Chris Waters

Printed in The Indianapolis Star on April 21, 2015

As a Hoosier native, resident of Washington Township, parent of two young children and local small business owner, the series Lost in Translation hits close to home for me for many reasons.  I grew up and attended Carmel schools in the 80’s and 90’s.  The surge of immigration since that time has not only shaped my career, but affected the lives of many people in Central Indiana, including my staff, my neighborhood schools and my children.

The challenges faced by immigrants and refugees when they move or relocate to Indiana are overwhelming for an entire family as they experience communication barriers and culture shock.  The ability of the public schools to accommodate the language access needs of young children is crucial for a family new to our country, as well as for the economic health of our city and state.

As a community of public agencies and private enterprises, we must find ways to help transition these immigrant students and their families to life in Indiana without jeopardizing the cultural identities and heritage that they have brought with them.  I started my company, LUNA Language Services, with the purpose of supporting language access for those with limited English proficiency.   We are proud to partner with organizations like The International Center, which provides cultural education and relocation services to incoming immigrants, and with Exodus Refugee Immigration, which provides not only practical support, but mental health services to refugee families who now call Indiana “home”.  Imagine if similar classes and support were offered to our schools, teachers, and students addressing both language and cultural needs of these growing immigrant communities.

My daughter entered Spring Mill Elementary this fall and was lucky to have a bilingual kindergarten teacher, Ms. Jennifer Rankin, who has the skills and ability to communicate with the many children in the classroom and their parents who have limited English skills.  Unfortunately, a bilingual teacher is the exception in Indianapolis.  I believe we need to equip our schools with improved language services and cultural sensitivity programs to meet the many challenges faced by the immigration to Central Indiana.  In fact, doing so would allow our state and all of its citizens to thrive both economically and socially.