A husband-and-wife team of transportation professionals is putting their language skills to good use on behalf of KCS students.
Becky Bran is a customer service representative for the KCS Transportation Department, while Rudy Bran is a bus driver. Both are native Spanish speakers, and they have also learned the Akateko dialect, providing another way to connect with students and families who need assistance.
Becky said being bilingual has been beneficial in every job she’s had, and it has made a difference when talking to parents about bus issues. Language barriers can sometimes make it hard to understand information about routes or drop-off times, but she said parents are very grateful when they can get information in their own language.
“When I get to speak to them in Spanish, they understand and they’re not as confused,” she added.
Becky Bran was born and raised in New York City to parents who were originally from Honduras. They insisted that Rebecca and her siblings speak Spanish at home, and while she didn’t like it at the time, she came to appreciate that rule after seeing the benefits of speaking both languages as an adult.
Rudy Bran grew up in Guatemala, and didn’t know any English upon coming to the U.S. at the age of 17. He learned the language little by little, and eventually began working as a bus driver because it offered a flexible schedule that complemented his work as a minister with the Jehovah’s Witnesses church.
For KCS, he drives a route in the Carter community and also drives an additional route for special education students who participate in Community-Based Instruction during the day.
Rudy said new students who don’t speak English are often apprehensive when they get on his bus, and if he can have a conversation with them it helps make them comfortable.
He first noticed the influence of the Akateko dialect in his work as a pastor, and began picking up conversational phrases to interact with parishioners. About three years ago, he and Becky traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip, and stayed in a city where that dialect was the only language spoken.
After gaining fluency in the dialect, both now use it as part of their work with families and students. Becky said that when she receives a call with an Akateko speaker on the line, they are always surprised to hear a greeting in their language.
“Just by saying a hello, a greeting – ‘What can I help you with?’, ‘Where do you live?’ – in Akateko, that comforts them,” she said. “And you can get more information out of them in the little bit of Spanish that they do know. You can just tell the difference, that they’re not as terrified that nobody’s going to understand them.”
A trailblazing entrepreneur and civil servant who immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 is putting her skills and experience to work on behalf of KCS students and families.
Patricia Robledo is the founder of a local translation / interpretation business and previously served as the City of Knoxville’s business and development liaison.
Last year, Robledo was hired to serve as Knox County Schools’ first Latino community outreach specialist, a role in which she is working to increase engagement and improve communication with Spanish-speaking families and others that are not fluent in English.
As part of that effort, Robledo has created a new Spanish-language Facebook page, and has been a key member of the Alliance For Educational Equity’s communications team. Approximately 8 percent of the district’s more than 61,000 students speak Spanish, and 5.1 percent are designated as English learners. Robledo’s work is focused on initiatives to ensure those families and others have access to information they need about the district and its schools.
As a former KCS parent and volunteer, Robledo said she is excited to implement strategies that improve family communication. “Communication leads to engagement, which will hopefully lead to better educational outcomes,” she said. “It’s all part of a bigger picture that the district has, and whatever role I can play in helping with that will be great.”
Robledo’s own life journey illustrates the challenges and opportunities for Spanish-speaking families and immigrants. When she moved to Knoxville with her family in 1981, she initially had limited English proficiency but began volunteering at the World’s Fair in 1982 as part of a team that welcomed visitors who spoke other languages.
She eventually attended the University of Tennessee, then finished a double-major in biology and medical technology at Lindenwood University in St. Louis, before moving to New Hampshire where her two children were born.
In 1995, she moved back to Tennessee with her family, and eventually received a call from Levi’s, which was looking for an interpreter to assist in communicating with Spanish-speaking employees.
That experience sparked an entrepreneurial drive, and she launched Robledo Translations, a company that went on to work with a variety of private-sector firms as well as the federal government. She also became a founding member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee.
In 2011, she received a call from Knoxville Mayor-Elect Madeline Rogero, asking her to join the new administration as the first director of the new Office of Business Support. She worked for the city throughout Rogero’s term, and was asked to remain by current Mayor Indya Kincannon after Kincannon was elected in 2019.
Looking back, Robledo said the appointment was an amazing opportunity. “Never would I have thought, after arriving in Knoxville at the age of 17 with limited English proficiency, that maybe one day the newly elected and first female mayor of the City of Knoxville would call me and invite me and appoint me as the first Latina immigrant ever to be appointed to a city administration in Knoxville,” she said. “It was a great, great honor.”
As the Spanish-speaking population within KCS has grown, the district in recent years has been focused on sharpening its communication strategy to reach families who are English-language learners.
Carly Harrington, KCS Chief Public Affairs Officer, said Robledo’s long experience as an advocate and community leader along with her background in translation services, made her a perfect fit for the new role within the district.
“Patricia is very well-respected in the Latino and greater Knoxville community, and a wonderful addition to our team,” said Harrington. “Her commitment and passion for helping students and families have already proven invaluable as we broaden our communication efforts and ensure that we are providing a welcoming environment for all.”
Robledo is currently working on projects including a Spanish-language video library for families; a user-friendly translation tool for the KCS website; improvements to the district’s family messaging system; and focus groups to assess the district’s communication strategies.
Throughout her career, she has enjoyed finding solutions, whether that meant assisting lost patrons at the World’s Fair, providing language services for businesses or helping city stakeholders navigate the administration to get the assistance they need.
“And I think my role here at KCS is the same,” she added. “I may not know everything, but I’ll ask a lot of questions and at the end I’ll hopefully act as a bridge.”
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