Translator aids Hispanic families in school system

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 11:55 PM

In 2006, there were around 300 Hispanic students in the Sevier County School System whose first language was Spanish. By 2012, that number had doubled.

Enter Raul Placeres, translator for Sevier County Schools.

Placeres has been translating in the school system for seven years. He helps students and families experiencing any kind of language transition from Spanish to English. He started translating out of Pigeon Forge Middle School.

"Now I'm at different schools five days a week because there are more and more students," Placeres said.

Originally from Cuba, Placeres' family immigrated to Miami in 1980, and he was born there a year later. He began his college basketball career at Keystone Junior College in La Plume, Pa., before transferring to Maryville College to play his junior and senior years.

In Sevier County, he started out as a basketball coach and history teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, while also doing some translating.

"With the increased need throughout the county with Hispanic kids, I just focused on being a translator in the school system," Placeres said.

Placeres explained that many of the families he deals with come to this area because it's a tourist center that offers a variety of jobs, and he expects the number of Hispanic children in the county's schools to continue to grow.

"There's opportunity here, and I think that's what these families see," he said.

Placeres takes care of everything from dealing with parents to translating documents. And while translating a lengthy Individualized Education Program plan isn't easy, Placeres said a lot of factors make dealing with people more difficult.

For example, some parents may not be able to attend a meeting with him because of their work schedule, or some students may be having behavioral issues.

"It's not just telling parents their kids are doing a great job," Placeres said. "We have those situations, but we also have disciplinary problems and kids who aren't up to par in academics. It becomes difficult."

But despite the difficult times, Placeres loves his work, which he describes as "smooth sailing all around."

"I truly feel that I'm a voice for them. It's a tough transition for any child or any family, and I'm that voice that can alleviate all those issues that you may have as a parent," he said. "I enjoy it, and I feel like I'm serving and helping. As long as I can do that, I'm happy doing my job."

And he hasn't given up basketball. He's now an assistant basketball coach at Maryville College, which means he basically works two full-time jobs. He commutes from Maryville in the morning, then goes back for basketball practice in the afternoon. After practice, other tasks like recruiting can extend his workday to 11 p.m.

Placeres said the long work days are difficult, especially when his favorite thing to do outside work is spend time with his daughter, Santina Sophia, who turned 3 on Tuesday.

rhargett@themountainpress.com