Cavanaugh ‘ayudando estudiantes’ with Spanish Translation Project

Senior+Catherine+Cavanaugh+created+%22The+Spanish+Translation+Project%22+website+to+connect+English+Language+Development+students+with+Spanish+Honor+Society+Tutors+to+translate+challenging+school+curriculum+from+English+to+Spanish.

Connor Niszczak

Senior Catherine Cavanaugh created “The Spanish Translation Project” website to connect English Language Development students with Spanish Honor Society Tutors to translate challenging school curriculum from English to Spanish.

“You look at someone and say ‘I could be you.’ If that’s the case, then, of course, I want to help you.”

These are words that senior Catherine Cavanaugh lives by. Whether it be lending a hand to a classmate in need or baking brownies for a friend’s birthday, she is always looking out for others. When the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring, Cavanaugh shifted her focus to an often overlooked population; North Penn’s English Language Development (ELD) students. Working with Señor Alejandro Vidal and Señora Brittany Atkiss, Cavanaugh crafted her Spanish Translation Project (STP).

Cavanaugh’s goal for the STP is to work with ELD students in subject matters that tend to be especially difficult by translating curriculum into Spanish. The majority of curriculum translated has been biology and health, due to the terminology and the intricacies of many course concepts.

It’s a lot harder to understand those concepts. Imagine students who know English trying to get through biology-it’s difficult!”

— Catherine Cavanaugh

“It’s a lot harder to understand those concepts. Imagine students who know English trying to get through biology-it’s difficult! It’s not one of the easier courses, but because there’s a certain number of science courses mandated, there was a need for more help with that. Now that we’re not in the building, it’s not as easy as just going in during a Knight Time or an 8B or a study hall and getting help, it’s kids having to go out on their own and figure it out,” Cavanaugh said.

In May of 2020, Cavanaugh began by setting up a STP website, which includes a mission statement and information for both students in need and students interested in becoming tutors.

“At the end of last [school] year, I decided to create a website…it was created with a mission statement to help ELD students (Spanish-speaking) who needed help with these kinds of classes. The way the website is set up is the title, the mission statement, a couple of thank you’s to the translators who put in their time and effort every week, thank you to Señor Vidal, who has really been pushing this initiative and then links for students who are looking for tutoring or who want to tutor. Kids who just want someone their age to explain something to them outside of school. It’s not necessarily the same thing as peer tutoring in school,” Cavanaugh explained.

“For the content, it’s a series of powerpoints with all of the information [translated] that a student needs to know for the year. A big reason some of the schools in Pennsylvania have adopted this is the Keystone exam. If you don’t pass the biology Keystone, you have to go to a summer remediation course and take it again,” Cavanaugh added.

For the content, it’s a series of powerpoints with all of the information [translated] that a student needs to know for the year.”

— Catherine Cavanaugh

So far, the STP has been almost entirely utilized by high school students, but Cavanaugh is more than open to the idea of expanding it to middle and even elementary school students. 

“For the most part, it’s high school students who are accessing this. If there are elementary school ESL students who want to take part in this program, no doubt about it the Spanish Honor Society students would love to do a buddy system with them. We just have not had the same outreach because, for the most part, this information has gone to high school kids. In terms of younger students, I’m sending the information to the middle schools (principals, guidance departments, Spanish teachers) this week [Since the time of this interview, Cavanaugh has been in contact with the administration at Penndale Middle School, and the Spanish Translation Project is gradually expanding to that school.] to see what they think and if there are any classes they would like us to work on translating. Eventually, the elementary schools as well,” Cavanaugh said.

Since she is the current Spanish Honor Society President, Cavanaugh was able to find a group of qualified tutors, who put in hours of work weekly. Each week, Cavanaugh assigns a certain number of Google Slides for each tutor to translate.

“As President of the Spanish Honors Society, I asked them, ‘does anyone want to be a translator? Does anyone want to work on this?’ As of now, I’m managing about 10-15 students who are actively working to benefit from this project,” Cavanaugh explained.

“I have been looking forward to working to being in SHS and all that came with it. When Catherine approached me with this project, I of course wanted to get in on the action. I love that I could be helping someone out greatly just because I am helping with the language barrier. It also helps me improve myself, so it is a win-win,” noted senior Keenan Washington, one of the STP’s translators.

Spanish Translation Project translators include Washington, Benjamin Fillgrove, Alan Aristizabal, Danny Halovanic, Dafne Terrones Huamani, Selenna Jiang, Valliammai Janakiraman, Gerald Libby, Anjali Talluru, Talia Schneider, and Gloria Choi. 

Coming from a background where multiple languages are spoken, I have been able to help students with such diversity understand what they’re learning while also improving my skills in the Spanish language.”

— Gerry Libby, NPHS senior and STP Translator

“Catherine asked me personally if I wanted to be a part of this project and I said yes without any hesitation. Overall, this project has been an absolute blast for me! Coming from a background where multiple languages are spoken, I have been able to help students with such diversity understand what they’re learning while also improving my skills in the Spanish language,” senior Gerry Libby added.

Through her website, Cavanaugh is able to see pinpoints of where people are accessing the website from around the world; so far, it has been used in nearly 10 states and 3 countries!

“As of now, we’re getting hits from a lot of different areas. I get to see where in the world people are taking a look at it. The farthest west that we have is Oregon, but also Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and a couple of hits over in Spain and Italy! This is the reason for the internet. To exchange ideas and to help others. It’s an amazing thing,” Cavanaugh noted.

Locally, there are about 15 regular viewers of the Spanish Translation Project at North Penn, and about 40 overall.

We hope that as the year goes by, the translation project keeps growing and continues to provide students at North Penn, and in other districts, the opportunity to collaborate virtually and to help other students in our community.”

— Señor Alejandro Vidal

“We hope that as the year goes by, the translation project keeps growing and continues to provide students at North Penn, and in other districts, the opportunity to collaborate virtually and to help other students in our community,” Señor Alejandro Vidal expressed. 

Cavanaugh heaped praise onto the NPHS Spanish department and the work they’ve done to help the Spanish Translation Project be so successful.

“Señor Vidal has been a mentor for this project throughout its entirety. He was one of the people who started reaching out to Central Bucks along with Señora Atkiss. They have friends who are teachers, they go to foreign language conferences, and they’ll know someone who knows someone, which is a really big part of this,” Cavanaugh noted.

As for what sparks Cavanaugh’s passion for teaching ELD students? She began taking Spanish lessons when she was just two years old and feels a personal connection to the ELD students she works with.

“My uncle married a woman whose family is from Nicaragua. I love them dearly, they’ve sacrificed a lot, and have not always lived easy lives…coming here was not easy. Taking these classes was not something they would say was easy,” Cavanaugh explained.

Cavanaugh and Senor Vidal at a 2019 Spanish Honor Society celebration. (Submitted Photo)

“The ESL kids are great and they have so much to offer. Not only to the school but to the community at large. When you really get to know them, you always want to help them,” Cavanaugh concluded. 

Questions? Visit here to get involved with the project or email Catherine Cavanaugh at [email protected]