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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Omar Thu, parent liaison with East Allen County Schools, bridges the language gap between Myanmar families and the schools.

  • Thu

Sunday, June 24, 2018 1:00 am

Myanmar native translates for EACS

Parent liaison helps families in many ways

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette


Name: Omar Thu

Age: 43

Title: Parent liaison

Background: A native of Myanmar, formerly Burma. Earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Yangon University of Distance Education. He is a certified translator for East Allen County Schools. 

Omar Thu hasn't been around East Allen County Schools long but already has made a big impact.

Hired in April, the soft-spoken native of Myanmar, formerly Burma, is a parent liaison for the school district. It's a title that comes with many responsibilities and allows him to be a bridge connecting educators, parents and students.

Thu, 43, focuses on communicating with Burmese-speaking families who might not speak much – or any – English. It's his job to relay information back and forth from teachers and schools to students and parents.

It sounds simple, but the methods by which the information is sent and the types can vary. Thu might translate a newsletter sent from school to parents, for example. He has made calls to students' homes to make sure parents understand instructions on invitations for extracurricular activities.

“As a parent liaison, he is a jack-of-all-trades,” said Jennifer Heffernan, the district's director of Title III, the federal program that deals with language instruction.

It's an important position that's crucial for the education of many EACS students, she said. Of the district's 9,800 students, nearly 900 are Burmese-speaking.

“We have a large need for that communication,” Heffernan said.

Thu left Myanmar in 2008 and worked at several different jobs after arriving in the U.S., including at EACS.

“I didn't know anybody (here), except for one family,” Thu said.

He was once a translator in one of the district's schools but left because the position was only needed while students were in school. He worked briefly at Wells Fargo, too.

“I'm good with people, but I'm not good at pushing sales,” he said, smiling.

Thu said he needed something more permanent, and he got it when he took the parent liaison job.

Now, he works to translate and clarify information sent to and from schools. He attends meetings and tries to answer questions from parents.

Not all the questions he's asked are about academics. One parent recently had a question about the balance on a student's school lunch account.

“I just want to make some sense for them,” Thu said.

Because Thu is from Myanmar, Heffernan said he can connect in ways a non-native might not. He is able to gain the trust of Burmese-speaking students and parents, she said, and he understands linguistic idiosyncrasies that might slip through rote translations.

“Some of the words we have in English, they don't have in Burmese,” Heffernan said. “He really bridges that gap for us with parents and families.”