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Reyes a godsend for W.O. Lance

LANETT — Our Valley Times-News Educator of the Week, Tamara Reyes, has been a godsend for W.O. Lance Elementary School the past two years. She’s a secretary who spends most of her time in the office. She also fills an important role as translator.

Reyes was born in Puerto Rico and is fluent in both English and Spanish. W.O. Lance has a growing Latino population. Five years ago there were five students who spoke Spanish at home. This year there were 91 such students.

It’s an absolute necessity to have people who can speak both languages. Reyes is excellent at doing that. She’s popular with the students, both those who speak English, Spanish and both languages.

At a Super Citizen Celebration taking place at the school on Friday, May 4, second grade students chose her for a Hero Award. She wiped tears from her face as Kayla Titus and Jakeria Frazier presented her some flowers and a Hero necklace.

“She means so much to us,” they said.

Reyes has been stateside since 1989, when she moved from Puerto Rico to Michigan. She’s been in the Columbus, Ga., area since 2003 and at W.O. Lance since 2016. It’s not just happenstance that got her here.

“I’m not here by chance,” she said. “It was God’s doing.”

Two years ago she was seeking a new job at Kelly Services in Columbus. She wasn’t having much luck and asked if anything in the way of a clerical position was available.

“What do you think about being a bilingual secretary?” they asked her. “A school near here is looking for someone who speaks English and Spanish.”

It was like a door had opened for her.

“That was on July 14, 2016,” she said. “My first day on the job in Lanett was on July 25.”

Reyes said she has thoroughly enjoyed her time in Lanett.

“It has been an honor for me to watch these children grow from where they were to where they are now,” she said. “It’s been a privilege to have been a part of it.”

Reyes said that she’s excited about a partnership between the Lanett School District and Southern Union State Community College. A $30,000 grant from Dollar General has given a huge boost to this adult literacy program.

While children are learning to speak English in an elementary school setting, their parents are learning to speak the language in an evening English Language Learning class.

“I’ve been more than a translator,” Reyes said. “I wear a lot of hats and gladly.”

A single parent, Reyes has a six-year-old daughter, Camila, who is a student at W.O. Lance.

“Some of the kids speak with a dialect, but we can understand each other,” Reyes said. “It’s important to build relationships with their parents and to have them involved in what their children are doing at school.”