BY CHERI BENTRUP
Eight students from Wheeling High School are using technology to reach out to their Spanish-speaking peers.
The students, in an effort to accommodate the growing Spanish-speaking population in the area and to encourage use of the Internet, worked this summer to produce some of the first Spanish-language Web pages in the area.
Working from computers at the North Suburban Library System and Wheeling's Indian Trails Public Library, the students translated and created dozens of Internet pages.
Among the pages now available in Spanish are the Indian Trails Library, St. Joseph Catholic Church and the Wheeling Historical Society. The pages can be accessed by connecting to www.northstarnet.org.
The students are now working at Indian Trails to translate Web pages for the Wheeling police and fire departments.
The summer project was coordinated by the North Suburban Library System in cooperation with the high school, Indian Trails, Northwestern University and a $10,000 grant from the Illinois State Library through the Illinois Secretary of State's Office.
"There are so many Spanish-speaking people in the area," said WHS senior Ileana Ortega, noting that the translations will make it easier for those residents to gather information via computer. "It was easy for me to translate, and I liked the fact that I learned more codes for the computer. It gave me something to do this summer."
Judith Ream, who led the summer project as the North Suburban Library System's special programs coordinator, said the pilot project gave her hope that other Web pages could be translated into Spanish, as well as other foreign languages.
"The population in the suburbs is becoming very multicultural," Ream said. "Up until now, the information had all been in English. The students showed us it was possible to do this. We'd like to expand this project."
The Library System includes 49 public libraries and covers an area from the northern Chicago border to the Wisconsin state line, north suburban Cook County south to Elk Grove Village, west to Elgin and a portion of McHenry County.
"There are more and more people moving into these areas that speak languages other than English, and it's helpful for them to access the information in their native language," Ream said.
The students, who all speak Spanish at home, said they were most interested in learning how to create Web pages.
Senior Angelita Altamirano said her favorite project was creating the Historical Society's Web page in English, then translating it into Spanish.
"It was neat to see all the pictures they had," she said. "It was interesting and it's good to learn how to create a Web page. I didn't know how before."
Francisco Rivera, a sophomore, estimated that the group created between 50 and 60 Web pages, in both English and Spanish, during their nine-week summer job.
"It gave me a chance to see whether I really like it," said Rivera of a possible career in the computer field, something the summer project helped him decide against. "I don't want to be sitting in front of a computer all my life.
"But this was a good project," Rivera said. "We're not known to do this. We don't get recognized for doing good things."
Though senior Billy Campos is fluent in Spanish, he said translating the Web pages from English was the most challenging aspect of the job for him.
"That was the most difficult part for me, translating," Campos said.
The students' work focused on translating and creating Web sites for local agencies in Spanish, but they agree that more Web pages should be available in both languages.
"The Spanish-speaking people are going to be the first minority, and I think (the country) should have a second language," Rivera said.
"This is another way they can find out what's going on in the community," Altamirano added.
The students continue their work directly with Indian Trails Public Library, Ream said.
"It was a wonderful program. The students were great. They learned quickly and worked hard," Ream added. "They were so enthusiastic. It was a real joy to work with them."
Copyright© 1998 Pioneer Press Newspapers & the Chicago Sun-Times Co.