CALCIUM, N.Y. (WWTI) — The Indian River Central School District is continuing its effort to connect families from all over the world.

Indian River has the largest percentage of military families in the region due to its proximity to Fort Drum. This brings in families and students from numerous states and countries, many being bilingual.

The district’s English as a New Language, commonly known as ENL, program helps support these families by providing additional language services to students. The program offers classroom services as well as translators during the school day.

“We ultimately give them additional time in language services,” ENL Director Kevin Kelly said. “Our ENL program is unique, I think because of Fort Drum and that brings people in from all over the world, which makes our ENL program bigger than most in the area.”

However, the main priority of Indian River’s ENL program is celebrating culture and community. This could be seen at Calcium Primary School on November 4 during the district’s ENL Family Night.

Out of the several dozen of families in attendance, many were military, including Jina Aponte’s, whose two sons are enrolled in the ENL program.

Aponte’s husband is a soldier at Fort Drum and she explained how the program made her family feel welcome after just moving to the North Country this past summer.

“All the teachers who help the kids, to feel like they belong here, you know,” she said. “And the diversity that they celebrate here for all the countries, makes my heart so warm.”

This was the goal of the Family Night, ENL Teacher Laurie Gardner explained. She said this was the first time the event had been held since 2015 and the turnout was impressive.

“Being military, they are away from their families and their homes, and then adding a language barrier on that for some families can be very difficult,” Gardner shared. “So they get to come here and meet one another if they haven’t already met and it’s really a bonding night for all the families.”

Families also heard from Spanish Translator Maria Margarita Pedrosa-Parker, who came to the United States alone when she was five and connects families sharing similar experiences.

“When [students] walk through this door here, when they walk, I can speak for everybody in this school and the whole school district, that we’re committed to the children,” Pedrosa-Parker shared.