CMS International Center: A one-stop shop for multilingual families
Roberto Niurulu has lived in the U.S. for several years, and his 9-year-old son, Bryan, recently joined him from Mexico. With a new school year around the corner, they turned to the CMS International Center (IC) for help in finding the right school for Bryan.
"This is the first time I've brought my son to the United States," Niurulu said. "I am happy to be able to enroll him in school, so he has a better future."
Niurulu said he was glad they could get help at the IC, which provides comprehensive services for students and their families who speak a language other than English at home. In the 2021-2022 school year, the center served more than 5,000 visitors who were looking for support and to enroll their children in CMS. The district has more than 46,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are linguistically diverse. The IC works to ensure those students have equal access and participation in the district's educational programs.
"We are the welcoming face of CMS," said Gilmara Johnson, an EL Family and Community Engagement specialist at the IC. "We don't turn anyone away."
Families often contact other CMS departments before finding the IC, Johnson said, but once there, they have a one-stop shop for navigating CMS and life in a new community. The IC team, which includes bilingual social workers on site, will assist with all aspects of enrollment, including school choice, transportation and meal sign-up. Covering all the bases can be a lengthy process, Johnson said, so the team makes sure families have the necessary documents and information they need to avoid delays and unnecessary return trips to the IC.
"We really want to avoid hardship for the families," she said.
Families also have access to school supplies, toiletries, books for building a home library, clothes and community resource information. Other services include English language proficiency testing, international transcript evaluation, grade placement recommendations and counseling. The district's annual Pre-K-12 English Learner (EL) Headcount last year was nearly 25,500 students, the highest EL enrollment in CMS history.
"This support at the International Center is really important for us because it's about my child's education," said Librada Gutierrez, who moved to the area from Mexico with her 13-year-old son, Sergio Grande. "The service is also important for the Hispanic community since we find it difficult because of the language."
The IC has a constant flow of families every day, averaging 3,000 visitors over the summer. Recently, the team served 160 families from 30 different countries in just two days. Most came from Central America, Venezuela and Ukraine, and the IC team is beginning to see families coming from Russia, Johnson said. The team also works with partners, including the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency and Catholic Charities, and helps enroll unaccompanied minors, who have sponsors through the Department of Health and Human Services, to ensure everyone has a chance for a successful life.
"This is the first step," Niurulu said. "I can't wait to see my son learning from this. We will learn a new language together, the most important thing in this country, and improve our lives."
The International Center is located at 4000 Applegate Road in Charlotte (28209). For information, call 980-343-3784 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.