Lourdes Salavar remembers trying to navigate her two daughters through Bellevue schools, unsure of how the education system here worked...

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Lourdes Salavar remembers trying to navigate her two daughters through Bellevue schools, unsure of how the education system here worked compared to her native Mexico.

“I didn’t have a language problem, but I had a cultural-difference problem,” said Salavar, whose daughters are now both in college. “I didn’t go to school in the U.S., so I didn’t know the process for signing my kids up for cheerleading or soccer. … I think now that there may have been things they missed out on.”

The barriers are even greater for parents who don’t speak English, Salavar said.

Many Spanish-speaking parents want to be more involved with their children’s education but aren’t sure how or are afraid to speak up, said Salavar, president of the Eastside Latino Leadership Forum.

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As schools in Bellevue prepare to open Tuesday, the district is beginning several new programs aimed at arming Spanish-speaking parents with the information and confidence to be active in their children’s schools.

The district recently released an hourlong Spanish-language DVD that walks parents through the basics of how to enroll their children in elementary, middle or high school. The production stars district employees who explain in Spanish ways parents can get involved in their children’s education, how to contact teachers or administrations, and different programs and services available to their children.

The district has distributed 300 DVDs to apartments, churches and other community-gathering places in the city to be distributed to new Spanish-speaking residents, said Ann Oxrieder, assistant to the superintendent, who oversaw the DVD project.

The district is also working to set up a mentoring program for non-English speaking parents. The district is hoping to pair parents who are familiar with Bellevue schools with new non-English speaking parents. The district hopes mentoring will empower new parents who might feel uncomfortable asking administrators or teachers questions.

“It’s confusing and lonely when you don’t know the process and there’s no one to tell you,” Salavar said.

Bellevue has one of the more diverse student populations of Eastside school districts. According to statistics compiled by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Hispanic students are the fastest-growing minority, with about 8.5 percent of Bellevue’s students. Whites make up 65.6 percent of the student population, and Asians and Pacific Islanders form the largest minority at about 23 percent.

Also, in October 2003, about 7.6 percent of the district’s students were considered transitional bilingual. About 60 languages are spoken by students attending Bellevue schools, Oxrieder said.

The new programs will join several started last year, including regular group parent meetings for Spanish speakers. The district held a Latino Student Leadership Conference in May and hopes to do the same this school year, Oxrieder said.

Some of these programs have sprung up from recent cultural-training sessions with district staff, said Superintendent Mike Riley.

“One thing that has come out of [the training] is that … kids will depend heavily on how mom and dad and siblings think,” Riley said. “So if you are going to work well with the kid, you have to work well with mom and dad.”

So far, the DVDs have received rave reviews. Spanish-speaking parents snapped up 30 of them after Saturday’s Spanish-language Mass, said Jenny Resendez, pastoral assistant at St. Louise Catholic Church.

“We made an announcement after Mass that this information was available,” Resendez said. “There are lots of families interested in how to be more involved with the schools and in communication with school teachers.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com