Rivera crosses language barriers, connects with students


Emma Young

Nydia Rivera stands outside her office. As the Bilingual Community Engagement Specialist, she helps connect with families and students who speak English as a second language.

Emma Young

For many English-speaking students, language barriers rarely serve as obstacles in everyday life. However, for students whose second language is English, these differences pose consistent struggles.

Fortunately, Nydia Rivera, who serves as the Bilingual Community Engagement Specialist, is there to help. Rivera connects with families and students in the Midtown community who speak English as a second language. Originally from Puerto Rico, Rivera worked there as a journalist before moving to the United States.

“I have a bachelor and master’s in Public Communication with a minor in Journalism from the University of Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “After I graduated, I worked for 12 years in newspapers in Puerto Rico; I loved that. In some ways, journalism is about connecting with people and connecting the community, so it blends with what I do now.”

After moving to the United States, Rivera started working for a translation and content creator company where she wrote articles about health in Spanish. Later, she moved into an academic environment to begin working in Spanish dual immersion programs at a pre-school and then at E. Rivers Elementary School.

“I was a paraprofessional teacher with them in the classroom, helping the kindergarteners,” Rivera said. “We only spoke Spanish to them because we wanted them to learn the language and to get immersed in the language.”

Rivera, who is fluent in both Spanish and English, helps translate for families and provides guidance for certain processes like registration and picking classes.

“When the children first get to Midtown, I help them with registration and with their parents I talk about all the programs and the pathways that we have here,” Rivera said. “This is not like a middle school or elementary school; they really need to see that every grade is very important.”

Rivera focuses on communicating with parents and providing all of her information in Spanish, as well as being able to walk through the process with parents. She hopes that the parents she works with will feel comfortable reaching out to her for help.

“At the open house for parents and students, I have a table where I help the parents, and I give them all the material in Spanish,” Rivera said. “If they have some doubts, I give them my phone number, and they call me all the time for any doubts, like if they move or for all the registration stuff.”

For parents, having someone to constantly assist them who speaks the same language has been very impactful.

“I feel more confident about asking questions and getting information since she is a Spanish speaker,” Arlene Estrada, mother of junior Misael Ochoa-Estrada, said. “Anytime I have a concern or question about my kid’s grades or how he is doing in school, she is the first administrator I contact.”

In the past, a resource like Rivera has not always been available. Ochoa-Estrada recalls having to translate for his parents in school meetings due to the language barrier.

“Especially in elementary school, I had to translate a lot for my mom, and you can imagine how nervous I felt doing that,” Ochoa-Estrada said. “A lot of times when there were meetings or parent-teacher conferences, I had to be there to translate, which at times could be draining, but I truly loved helping them.”

Rivera has had a big influence on Ochoa-Estrada’s experience at Midtown.

“Ms. Rivera is a great administrator,” Ochoa-Estrada said. “She has been really helpful with letting me know about upcoming events and opportunities that she feels I could prosper in. She always makes sure to ask me how I’m doing with my grades. It’s really nice to see somebody show extra care for the students whose first language isn’t English.”

Even for students whose first language is English, having someone who may have shared the same experiences as them due to their background can be welcoming.

“It’s important to have someone like Ms. Rivera at school because it makes students feel more comfortable,” senior Fernanda Morales said. “Even if it’s not my first language, I find it easier and somewhat comforting to be able to talk to someone in my ‘mother’ language. It could also be useful to students who aren’t all that fluent in English or don’t feel comfortable enough to share what’s on their mind.”

Aside from assisting parents, Rivera also helps students with their post graduation plans, whether that be a four year school, two year school or finding a career. She provides extra guidance to families by working with them to complete FAFSA and to apply for scholarships, such as Achieve Atlanta

“Another thing I help with now is senior year,” Rivera said. “I give them a questionnaire at the beginning of the year with all the things that they need to do, like community service hours and if they took the ACT or SAT.”

For Morales, the college process has been one of the major challenges of her senior year. 

“I’m the first one in my immediate family to go to college, so it’s been a bit challenging to say the least,” Morales said. “I think that’s it’s a process that’s not only new to me but to my family, as well. I’ve had to sit down and explain things for what feels like forever, just for them to get an idea of what I’m doing.”

Having the guidance of Rivera has been important for Morales as she has been able to help explain the admissions process to Morales and her family and provide assistance with scholarships.

“Even if I don’t see her often, she always asks where I’ve applied to, if I’ve applied anywhere, my admission status and scholarships to look into,” Morales said. “This is really helpful because, like I said, my family isn’t that familiar with the college process, so it’s nice to see someone care.”

Aside from providing helpful guidance to families and parents, Rivera also serves as a strong role model for students.

“She makes it easier for parents to find out how their children are doing in school, and it also makes school more welcoming for those bilingual students,” Ochoa-Estrada said. “For me, seeing a Latinx person have an important role in our community is really inspiring and motivates me to be like them in the future.”