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Gerstell Academy students breaking language barrier for first responders, businesses: ‘It’s only going to be more and more essential’

Falcons senior Aaron Rubalsky, right, and junior Hunter Linton are both members of Gerstell’s Intern/Mentor Program, Spanish in the Community, a program designed to give students professional guidance while using Spanish. - Original Credit:
Falcons senior Aaron Rubalsky, right, and junior Hunter Linton are both members of Gerstell’s Intern/Mentor Program, Spanish in the Community, a program designed to give students professional guidance while using Spanish. - Original Credit: (Courtesy photos / HANDOUT)

Two students from Gerstell Academy have taken distance learning to a new level, working to help first responders and local businesses break a language barrier.

Falcons senior Aaron Rubalsky and junior Hunter Linton are both members of Gerstell’s Intern/Mentor Program, Spanish in the Community, a program designed to give students professional guidance while using Spanish. By the end of the course, students are expected to create and share a product to benefit others.

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Mary Louque, Gerstell’s vice president and director of admissions, said Spanish is an academic requirement at the school and students usually begin their instruction at a young age.

“We’re really coming face to face with how global our new reality is and how globally connected our communities are throughout the world,” Louque said. “Spanish is really ubiquitous in many areas of the world … children are like little sponges, they soak up the language and it comes naturally to very young children and we just build upon it throughout their years at Gerstell.”

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Rubalsky, 18, has been studying Spanish since sixth grade and continues to find ways to apply his lessons to the community and beyond. He created a website called emergencyspanish.com designed to “promote the need for a funded course that should be required for all career and volunteer first responders with no prior language training.”

Rubalsky has been volunteering at the Glyndon Fire Department in Baltimore County since 10th grade. While riding on calls, he noticed an increase in non-English speaking patients who were unable to communicate with first responders at the scene of an emergency.

Gerstell senior Aaron Rubalsky operates his website, titled emergencyspanish.com, from this desk space.
Gerstell senior Aaron Rubalsky operates his website, titled emergencyspanish.com, from this desk space.

In the first semester, Rubalsky researched the status of language services provided by emergency personnel throughout the United States and communicated by phone and email with multiple investigators who also recognized the need for services, according to the release. He interviewed firefighters, surveyed their preexisting skills in Spanish and developed and delivered lessons for the website.

“Baltimore County doesn’t offer a single language training course and the rise of Spanish-speakers keeps going up,” Rubalsky said. “It should be mandatory to start training first responders and it doesn’t need to be anything advanced, but something to get the basics down.

“That’s what I’m doing with the website, to help them learn basic words and greetings and such to make sure it’s less stressful.”

Rubalsky created four different products on his site that are free for anyone to use — two audio classes, flashcards and a live online seminar.

Since the launch of emergencyspanish.com, Rubalsky has received positive words of affirmation outside of just Carroll County. A lifeguard from California recently contacted Rubalsky to tell him he had used the site during his certification process and requested more information.

Gerstell junior Hunter Linton created a brochure for his distance learning project.
Gerstell junior Hunter Linton created a brochure for his distance learning project. (Courtesy photo)

Rubalsky said language barriers only provide additional stress for a patient in need of serious medical attention and it might not be possible for them to learn English due to a lack of resources.

“My family is Russian and my parents are from the Ukraine,” Rubalsky said. “My grandparents live in Baltimore and they speak very good English but if it was hard for them to communicate if something happened to them where they needed emergency care, I would like to know that someone could speak the basic language to do something to help them.”

Rubalsky plans to attend Loyola University and study finance this fall. He said his favorite thing about studying Spanish and teaching it to others is how much he has been able to apply his lessons to the real world and help the community at the same time.

Linton, like Rubalsky, has actively been seeking out ways to help eliminate those barriers.

Linton is mentored by Laura Morton, a bilingual attorney based in Westminster, and he has been working in her office since last October. He greets Morton’s clients, many of which are Spanish-speaking, translates birth certificates and court documents, and translates for non-Spanish-speaking lawyers as well, according to the release.

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Linton said Morton is the only bilingual attorney in Carroll County and Spanish-speaking clients who know this have expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to communicate with her. It makes them feel comfortable when dealing with personal legal situations, he added.

“As we move forward, particularly for local businesses in Carroll County that might not be a part of a big franchise, it would do them well to hire bilingual employees or at least make an effort to reach out and cater to the Spanish-speaking community,” Linton said. “It’s only going to be more and more essential to have this service and offer it to the growing population in our community.”

Linton has reached out to members of local businesses in Carroll County to encourage them to offer services such as creating menus in Spanish. He recently communicated with a restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal by phone and email and was able to create a menu in Spanish specifically for that restaurant.

“By next fall, the goal is to have 10 to 15 businesses in the community to offer these services as a demonstration for showing that we are comfortable with the Spanish-speaking community,” Linton said. “I like to think of it as a win-win because small businesses are struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“What a great way to open our doors to have this new customer base for business when the stay-at-home order is gone away with.”

Added Louque: “It’s immensely rewarding to see these two young men demonstrate the leadership principles that Gerstell is known for and to continue their remote learning without missing a beat."

“In terms of giving back to the community, not only are they juggling their remote learning every day they’re in class but they haven’t missed a beat,” Louque said. “They’re giving back to the community in such very real very significant ways.”

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