Pictured: Mary Catherine Raymond, C’18, leads a Spanish class for Richmond City Schools staff in partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS) of Richmond.

By Morgan Geyer, ’19

With help from the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies, professionals in the Richmond community are receiving Spanish-language training in order to break down communication barriers that stand between them and the Spanish-speaking community. 

The first of these language training programs began in the fall of 2016 when SPCS Senior Program Manager Mary Catherine Raymond, C'18, discovered that the Richmond City Police Department's Second Precinct was looking to offer a Spanish-language workshop for their officers. 

Raymond got to work, organizing a noncredit, eight-week program that was held once a week in the training room of the Second Precinct’s headquarters so that officers could easily attend training without having to commute to campus from work.

The language training covered the basics of Spanish and pronunciation and then delved deeper into phrases that could be used specifically for law enforcement, such as how to explain a traffic violation. The classes focused on equipping the officers with the vocabulary they could use right away in their day-to-day jobs. 

Similarly, the Richmond City Justice Center began a partnership with SPCS in Summer 2017 to help Sheriff's Office officials, bailiffs and other personnel communicate with the Spanish-speaking residents and their families as well as visitors to the courthouse. 

While practical as professional development, the language training partnerships are also incredibly rewarding. “These professionals are excited about learning Spanish and can't wait to use it,” noted Raymond. “One of my students has even decided she wants to continue with lessons beyond her professional needs.” 

Owing to the success and popularity of this program, SPCS will be continuing its partnership with the Richmond City Justice Center this year to offer two more Spanish language trainings in the spring and summer. 

In addition to partnerships with law enforcement personnel, Raymond has also organized language training programs with nonprofit organizations. 

In Spring 2017, as part of its mission to reach a more diverse audience in the enjoyment of their music, the Richmond Symphony organized an event that was open to the public and contracted with Raymond to help with basic Spanish conversational skills. The Richmond Symphony’s staff wanted to be able to greet Spanish speakers and welcome them to the event. 

Most recently, SPCS has partnered with Communities in Schools of Richmond (CIS), a nonprofit organization that works with 40 schools in high-poverty neighborhoods of Richmond City and Henrico County. CIS supports students with varying needs in grades K-12 to ensure that they stay in school and graduate on time. 

Last spring, Raymond worked with CIS's on-site coordinators to ensure that they would have the vocabulary needed to communicate with their Spanish-speaking students and families about their individual backgrounds and needs.

Raymond, whose second language is also Spanish, empathizes with her students. “I feel a personal connection to those who desire to learn Spanish and get involved in international communities. Professionally, it’s rewarding to see the impact that we, as a school, can have in the professional development goals of people in different work environments,” Raymond said. 

As training opportunities in Richmond arise, SPCS will continue to meet their needs. “The sky is the limit in what we can do with our language outreach,” remarked Raymond.

She continued, “We can use our resources and expertise to meet the language training needs of the community, expanding what we already have and creating new relationships to continue to break down barriers of communication.”

To see all of the language partnerships available, visit the Language & Cultural Studies section of our online registration system.