From house to home
By Anna Leachman

Students from Hannah Scheidegger’s kindergarten class at Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School embrace Elena Nunez after she sits at a back table to observe a lesson. After the hugs, Elena reminds the children to behave, saying, “Remember to be good! My magic eye knows when you are not.”

“¡Hola! ¿Buenas tardes, cómo está?” 

Elena Nunez’s voice fills the school foyer where first grade teacher Ainsley Brown is meeting  with two parents eagerly awaiting an update of their child’s school performance. Ainsley explains the first portion of the child’s report card and pauses for Elena to translate from English to Spanish for the Hispanic couple seated across the table. Before the conference ends, Elena’s phone lights up with a call from her next appointment.

The phone is a constant in Elena’s life. She begins each morning by checking in with the teachers and consulting her planner where events written in layers of her handwriting compete for space in the small calendar squares. 

As an instructional assistant, Elena is always bustling from room to room at Parker- Bennett-Curry Elementary School. Of the 762 public elementary schools in Kentucky, PBC is the 37th most diverse. Many children there are learning English as a second language, which adds an extra challenge for them and complicates communication between teachers and parents. In addition to English, Spanish and Swahili are two predominant languages the children of PCB speak at home. 

Elena’s priority is creating a welcoming and understanding environment within these students’ home away from home to alleviate some of the stress caused by language barriers. She helps families overcome these obstacles by translating parent-teacher conferences for Spanish speaking families and helping ESL children with language evaluations.
She also helps students in the classroom, disciplines students sent to her office for causing trouble, and directs students in the cafeteria during lunches. 

Dominique Riley, one of Elena’s coworkers, says, “This building would crumble without her.”

“She’s our lifeline,” school nurse Ashten Embry says.

Elena confirms an appointment with second-grade teacher Kanicia Mays as students wait to return to the classroom after recess.

Elena talks to kindergartener Kaden Willis after he was sent out of class by his teacher for misbehaving. “Some people think being a teacher is easy,” Elena says. “It is not easy. You have to be a mom, a nurse and a psychologist when they come crying to you.”

Third-grade teacher Nicole Lee (from left) pauses as Elena translates a child’s behavior report into Spanish for Tania Aguirre and Wilfredo Valencia.

When the kids ask about the image on her phone's lock-screen, Elena explains that it is a picture with her late husband who passed away last year after a long illness.

Elena teaches Jobe Masumbuko, a kindergarten student at PBC, how to make the shape of a heart with his hands.

Elena returns to the cafeteria after a brief break during her two-hour shift managing the transitions between lunch groups.

Elena pauses to greet students in the hallway before checking on Hayley Neaceís second-grade classroom.

A student peeks around the door frame at Elena as she calls a Spanish-speaking parent regarding a follow up on a parent-teacher conference.

After work, Elena talks with her foster children, Ana Pérez (from left) and Catalina Brito, while holding Ana’s son, Levi Huertas. Once home, the family eats dinner together and recounts their day before going to bed.