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The Shelter Island School’s link to Spanish speakers: Ana Campos, making long-lasting connections

When Ana Campos smiles, what starts with her lips radiates upward to the sparkle in her eyes. It’s an asset in her interaction with everyone at Shelter Island School, where she is key to the school district’s outreach to the Spanish-speaking community.

“It has been amazing,” Ms. Campos, whose native country is Costa Rica, said of her work since she was appointed in October. She had worked cleaning houses and hoped someday she might be able to get a job teaching Spanish.

That wasn’t open in the district, but she was pleased just to be able to be around the children when she accepted the job as a school  office assistant. Ms. Campos is “thrilled,” she said, to have the added responsibility of using her language skills to bring the Spanish-speaking Shelter Island community into what the staff at the school refers to as a “family.”

While her responsibilities are defined as offering outreach to Spanish speakers, she’s willing to assist anyone with information that can bring them closer to the school community.

Shelter Islanders are “so lucky” living here, and it’s important they know their children are “not just numbers,” Ms. Campos said, adding that each child is “treated as an individual, and that’s something you don’t see in big schools,” she said.

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., described her contribution to the school as “amazing,” noting that there are about 30 Spanish-speaking parents with children enrolled in school and 19 showed up, despite foul weather, for the first weekly English language class on Jan. 9.

“Parent outreach in general is a major goal of the district and especially toward our Spanish-speaking families who may be new and not aware of all we can offer,” Mr. Doelger said. “I think there is a great need to reach out to this community.”

She and her husband Jose Vasquez, who live in East Hampton, have raised two daughters, Yasmin Petty, 28, and Keilyn Clark, 36.

Ms. Campos came to the United States 24 years ago following her husband, who relocated first to establish a base for his family. The original plan was that it would be a long time before they could be reunited. But they missed one another terribly, and in a short time, he called to say there was a job for her in the United States.

It was a no-brainer. She rapidly moved here and husband and wife found quickly they never want to leave, except, of course, to visit family who are in Costa Rica. She’s also delighted to have her parents visit here now and then.

“We love it here,” she said. Armed with a permanent resident Green Card that allows her to work here, she eventually hopes to become a citizen.

In addition to ongoing efforts through regular meetings with the Spanish-speaking community, there are plans for a multicultural night for all parents to get to know one another and have fun together, the superintendent said. “We are also planning a technology night so the parents can learn all of the different apps and programs that require logins in Spanish,” he added.

The Southold-based Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation (CAST) is a partner in the effort.

CAST also provides all families in need on the Island with food, nutritional information, clothing, energy, job training, classes and workshops and special events to serve seniors, children, parents, veterans, people with disabilities, homeless people and those in need of emergency assistance. Ms. Campos helps to connect the Spanish-speaking community with these and other services.

“I don’t always have all the answers,” she said. But what she does is conduct her own outreach to services.

Besides being bilingual, she brings a warm and inviting personality, intelligence and joy to her work in helping those she serves to establish connections with the administration, teachers and staff as well as outside services.

Understanding that families have many responsibilities, and may not respond to her phone calls to encourage them to learn about school services, Ms. Campos is patient and persistent in calling families several times if necessary, she said.

The result is that the number of parents responding is growing, as a result of her efforts and message, as well as because those who have participated in the program help spread the word among friends and neighbors.

Ms. Campos said she understands some families may be reluctant at first because of limited abilities with English. But she’s seeing more families overcome an initial hesitancy.

“I always tell them to take advantage” of the effort Mr. Doelger and others are making to be welcoming to the families, she said.

From the day she began working this past fall, she said she felt warmth and encouragement from her colleagues and is passing that feeling to the wider Spanish-speaking community. She always tells them to come in or call whenever they need assistance, and the parents are responding positively to getting the information related to their children’s education, and have a source when they have questions.

It’s a two-way street for Ms. Campos. “Every day I learn something,” she said, adding that she wants to be “perfect,” but understands a lesson she taught her own daughters   — you can always learn from errors.

As for her office responsibilities, she’s learning new systems necessary to her work. She functions as an assistant to Todd Gulluscio, Director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness and Personnel.

“Ana is amazing,” Mr. Gulluscio said, echoing Mr. Doelger’s words. She assists him with all departments, he added.

In her role as a conduit to Spanish-speaking families, she assists in engaging with their children’s school experiences and is the first point of contact most have with the district, Mr. Gulluscio said.

Ms. Campos “takes great pride in helping them,” he said. “She’s often in meetings translating, calling on the phone with reminders or sending out email messages to increase their opportunities to be part of the school community. Ana has a wonderful demeanor and is determined to help us make our school a happy place for everyone. We’re very proud that she’s a part of our team.”