Latino students at Richland Northeast High School are learning just how beneficial their skill of being bilingual is by participating in Si Se Puede’s student interpreter program.

Si Se Puede (SSP) is a non-profit organization in Columbia, South Carolina, that seeks to support Latino students in their schools and beyond. Their Student Interpreter program (SI) trains bilingual Latino students in both academic and professional skills to become Spanish interpreters.

The SI program has been in place at Richland School District Two for two years. Every year the program trains up to 16 students to become Spanish interpreters, and the students can se these skills in any number of ways.

“One of our graduates was able to start her own business through the skills she learned in the program and became an interpreter for different law offices translating documents for them,” Ron Huff, D, said.

SSP’s mission is to bridge the gap between public schools and the Latino community by helping students reach their full potential and recognize the opportunities that await them. They see the growing need to help Latino students within the school district to not only escape poverty, but to also preserve their heritage after graduation.

“Most of the people that I went to high school with here in Richland no longer speak Spanish,” Huff said. “It really made me see the value in keeping my heritage language.”

The SI’s program requires that students earn 200 hours during the program in order to receive credit for it as a class. About 145 of those hours are earned through working in the school office as being a student interpreter. The others are made up of after-school events that SSP holds to help engage the Latino community.

The students also fulfill academic requirements in the program that train them to be an interpreter for any situation.

“Our students go through the same training as our district employees,” Nathan O’Neil, the English for Speakers of Other Languages Program Compliance Administrator, said.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation has awarded a grant to SSP that allows for second year students in the program to take a test showing their proficiency in English and Spanish. They would be able to show future employers these results; it also provides SSP with the means to help students prepare for a professional life outside of high school.

Students in the program are also appreciative of this opportunity they are given and genuinely enjoy the program.

“I think it’s a great way of showing our abilities while also helping others,” Estefania Fuentes, a senior at Richland Northeast and second year in the SI program, said. “I think the program is a great way to improve our community and gives us the ability to help that along.”

“I feel like this program is beneficial to anyone who is bilingual because it helps us to learn a new ability,” Dennis Montero, another senior at Richland Northeast and first year in the SI program, said. “I like being able to impress my parents with what I’m learning and having this new ability to communicate for others.”