Traditional forms of communication don't reach all parents, and a school's ability to adapt is crucial to engaging parents in their child's education.
At Vose Elementary School, administration and staff are working hard to integrate a diverse family population into the fabric of their school. With multiple languages and cultures represented, Principal Monique Singleton knew that it was important to communicate in as many different ways as possible. Although traditional website and e-mail communications have been standard, a more adaptive approach was needed. Below is an interview with Monique which focuses on new strategies of communication and community building.
Question 1: How many different home languages do you have at Vose?
About 95% of our families who have shared they speak a language other than English at home speak Spanish, but we have about 3% who speak Arabic and then a few who speak Chinese, Hindi, Vietnamese and Chuukese.
Question 2: You consistently use Messenger to text parents about events and updates. How often do you do this? Do texts go out in more than one language?
We usually send 1-2 messages to parents through School Messenger each week to announce upcoming events like Spirit Days, Picture Day, days off school, PTO meetings or general school events. We think most parents read our texts, and some take time to open the emails too, so we are getting pretty good about keeping our messages short and to the point since the text only allows a certain number of characters. A great feature of School Messenger is that it automatically translates the message if you click the languages you want. This saves us lots of time and allows us to provide it to families in multiple languages.
Question 3: What other methods do you utilize to address different language groups?
In addition to school messenger, we also have two bilingual (Spanish) assistant secretaries and a bilingual (in Spanish) pat-time Family Liaison. We have been very deliberate about hiring staff who are representative of our students and families.
Question 4: What role does your student news station have in parent communication?
This year, our STEAM coordinator, Madeline Baker and our counselor, Bryn Pearson joined forces to help design and produce a weekly Vose News show with students, which is basically a YouTube video newscast. Each grade level rotates each week to be the featured group of students who create the content, make announcements, share birthdays of staff and students and highlight something about that month’s character trait. It is usually 5-7 minutes long and all teachers share it with their students each Monday during their community meeting. We are working on securing permission of a few more students from families so we can start to share it also each week through a text/email blast to families. We know parents and grandparents love to see their kids on video or doing special projects, and this a great informative piece each week letting them know what is going on in our school.
Question 5: How has SeeSaw been used to communicate with parents?
Each of our teachers is doing their best to share classroom and individual student highlights of learning and activities regularly. This year we made a real push at our Open House, Parent-Teacher Conferences and our recent Parent Tech Help Night to share the value and importance of parents getting signed up for SeeSaw. We knew that some parents didn’t even have a personal email account so that became our first priority, to show them how to sign-up for a few Gmail account so they could then get signed up for SeeSaw and also so they could start receiving our school emails including our bilingual school newsletters. As I shared earlier, all parents love to see what their children are doing in school and even in my own family, my daughter can no longer answer my questions about what she learned about with the standard “nothing really” because now I can see what she was learning about and ask her specific questions, watch the video or talk about the photo that as posted, etc. Parents are so excited now when I ask them about what they like about SeeSaw, it’s like a window into their child’s classroom that just hasn’t been available to us as parents and educators. Teacher also use SeeSaw to push out group messages, reminders, highlights and other important information. The emphasis has really increased our users and that makes it really worthwhile for our teachers to post, so they are doing it more than ever with their students. We did ask all teacher to post something, even if it was a class photo from the first day so that when we referred parents to SeeSaw there was something for them to see. Last year for the month of November, our teachers posted about 300 posts, but this year they posted about 1200 posts in the same month. Last year our highest number of parent visits in November (about the highest for the year) was 134 parent visits in one day, but this year our highest number of parent visits was also in November so far at 673 visits in a day. We went from having 178 parents connected on SeeSaw before school started this year to 424 parents as of early December. This has definitely been a team effort with our Parent Outreach Team, the Instructional Technology Department, our PTO and our teachers sharing and highlighting SeeSaw, as well as pumping up our kids to want their parents to get the app so they can see what the kids are learning and excelling at in school. Parents are part of our team and we need them to know what important work and learning is going on so they can support everything from getting their kids to school on-time to homework to volunteering at school and partnering with teachers in their child’s success at school.
Question 6: Are there other forms of communication that have brought people into the school?
We are always willing to do whatever we can to share information with parents. Some things we’ve found success with include updating our Reader Board in Spanish & English regularly, sending home our newsletter in Spanish & English in an easy to read format for all devices and platforms (we use S’more), partnering with our PTO to highlight school events in their newsletters, encouraging teachers to send info home in their SeeSaw and other communication to parents about upcoming events. Something that we’ve also found success with is printing a reminder on envelope address labels and sticking them on kids as they walk out the door...nothing helps increase participation at a Dining for Dollars fundraiser or a parent info night at the school like pressure from the kids to get their parents there. We also always have childcare and interpreters, as well as door prizes if we can. We have to compete for the many things pulling for a parent’s attention and time. I know what it’s like to be a busy parent, and if you can feed my kids and me, have child care and I might win something while having a voice and learning something about how I can better support their education, I’m there. I’ve found all parents care, and we just have to modify and adjust to fit what they are asking for because there are unlimited ways for parents to support their children and schools.
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