BLUFFTON, SC (WSAV) – WSAV is celebrating Hispanic Heritage. All month long we will be introducing you to people making a difference in our communities every day, like a Lowcountry woman who is helping students, teachers, and families overcome the language barrier.
She may be barely 5 feet tall, but Rosana Hellstrom is a giant figure for students, families, and faculty at Red Cedar Elementary.
“She is one of the pillars of our school I don’t know how we would do school without her,” said Assistant Red Cedar Principal Cynthia Laizer.
“I am a bridge between the families and the school,” said Rosana. “I carry a lot of things. Concerns, questions, information.”
Rosana came to the United States from Guatemala more than 30 years ago. Came to red Cedar when it opened 13 years ago. Now she uses the memories of her first days to drive her to help everyone.
“It was very frustrating,” said Rosana. “I cried every night when I saw people talking in English I thought they were talking about me. So I know what they may be feeling because they don’t know English”
Frustration releases for students once Rosana comes to class.
“Students do not say anything to the teacher because they don’t know English. Then I show up and speak Spanish and they relax,” smiles Rosana. “It helps them a lot.”
Help that is needed at a school with 44% Hispanic students, many of whom are just learning of has little English experience.
Her job encompasses everything. Whether it’s finding out more about sickness or absence or translating report cards for everyone to understand.
While these young kids are learning English every day, their parents can be left behind. That’s why Rosana started Red Cedar’s Latino Family Literacy Project.
“We are giving the parents tools so they can support their children at home,” says Rosana. “and they love that.”
The families come in for 8 weeks at night, together. Learning English, reading, getting a better understanding of their child’s education, teachers and school and how they can be involved.
“Reading is just the tool to get to the families,” explains Rosana. “Bring them closer to the school. Community engagement.”
“We want the parents to be engaged but if we don’t teach them how, how are they going to do it?” asks Rosana. “This program gives us that.”
Five years and 200 families later, many parents ask to come back or are now able to feel comfortable in the halls with their Red Fox family.
“They can feel they get closer to the school, the school is theirs. they have something meaningful for them through that program.”
Support that goes beyond language, beyond education. It starts with the caring and love that she brings with her every day.
“I can’t imagine Red Cedar without Rosana Hellstrom,” said Laizer. “She does her job every day from the heart when she sees a problem when she sees a concern she goes out of her way to solve it either for a student a teacher, or a family.”
“We would have a missing link if we didn’t have Rosana,” said Laizer. “We wouldn’t be able to connect as well with our Hispanic families.”
“It can be my legacy to the community,” says Rosana. “To give them the sense that they can. To teach them how to advocate for their children and how to educate themselves that we are all the same.”
Rosana says she is proud of her literacy program and hopes that other schools in the District will adopt similar programs to help more families adapt and thrive.