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Summary: Schoolwide toolkit/parent connector network

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Written by Mica Pollock, Jedd Cohen, Tona Delmonico, Gina d'Haiti, and Ana Maria Nieto for the Parent Connector project, with input from parents across the Healey School (particularly Consuelo Perez, Lupe Ojeda, Sofia Perez, Maria Carvalho, Ivanete Calmon, Veronaise Chaiki, Will Thalheimer, and Tracy and Dave Sullivan).

Click here for the <font color="#0000FF">Overview and key findings</font> on this project; click here for the <font color="#0000FF">Expanded story</font> on this project.

Gina, Connector to Haitian Creole speaking parents

What communication challenges did this project address?

Ensuring that everyone in a school can partner in student success requires overcoming structural barriers to communication between the school and families who share it. With parents, teachers, staff, and administrators at the K-8 Healey School in Somerville, we've been working toward a toolkit of tools and strategies for schoolwide communication that includes families across lines of language, income, background, literacy skills, and tech access/training. Over the course of two years, we met parents particularly committed to improving schoolwide communication and linked them in to the effort.

In the past year, we particularly paid attention to including immigrant parents in the loop of school information and input. We focused on creating the infrastructure of a "Parent Connector Network," in which bilingual volunteer parents ("Connectors") help get information to and from immigrant parents who speak their language. Parents and staff have been figuring out how to ensure that all parents in a multilingual and mixed-income school can access important school information and share ideas with other parents and school staff.

Parent Connector Network Model: pcn summary slide.jpg

Why is it important to improve communications?

What we found:

  • ¡Aha! Along with strong intentions to include all families, diverse schools need systems -- infrastructure -- for getting information to everyone and input from everyone. If structures don’t exist to get info out and input in, information just doesn’t get distributed, translated, or shared despite good intentions. And parent-school partnerships that could happen, don’t.
  • ¡Aha! Overall, we’ve learned that committed and diverse parents can be expert innovators of communication infrastructure for including all parents because they have a full understanding of communication barriers.
  • ¡Aha! In a multilingual school and district in particular, improving communications -- and strengthening relationships between families and educators -- requires creating a standing infrastructure for effectively tapping a key local resource: bilingualism.
  • ¡Aha! To fully engage all parents in a multilingual and diverse school, each effort to engage parents requires multiple efforts to make communication fully inclusive. Barriers to full inclusion exist every step of the way. So, we have come to think in terms of creating a full "infrastructure" for schoolwide communication (and low-cost translation and interpretation in particular) in a school.

How do Parent Connectors work? How would it be implemented?

  • If willing, bilingual parents ("Connectors") might volunteer time to build relationships with immigrant families who speak their language and help get information to and from them. Click here to see how we got to this point.
  • Connectors can call 3-5 other families once a month to share key information from the principal/school and to ask questions about any issues parents are facing. While connecting people by language is key in a multilingual school, we're now learning that Connectors also connect perhaps most effectively to same-language parents who share their child's own grade.
  • Translating material efficiently requires organization. While translating official documents will always require professional translation, volunteer “translator of the month” connectors can help prioritize and translate school information collected on a Googledoc or schoolwide listserve by school leaders and staff.
  • That information can then go onto a multilingual hotline (contact us if you want to create one!) or, schoolwide listserv, or onto handouts in backpacks.
  • Connectors can become constant innovators of communication infrastructure. Healey Connectors now are constantly asking, "How can we reach families more effectively?" Currently, we're experimenting with: providing informal interpretation for parents trying to connect to teachers and staff, when families drop off their kids early in the morning; creating a translated public list of services that all parents are entitled to regardless of documentation status, so that all parents and teachers are informed of what's available; and hosting multilingual parent coffee hours around town in addition to inside the school. Parents also have suggested that hosting multilingual school-related events where parents already gather (e.g., church) may be just as effective as trying to bring parents to school-based events.
  • (Here's a link to the story of how we got to the point of testing this “infrastructure” for multilingual translation and interpretation.)

How do you know if your school could improve communication?

Questions to ask about the current system in your school:

➢ Can everyone who needs to get and share important school information, get and share it?
➢ Where do you put school information so that everyone in the school can see it?
➢ How do you share parent ideas around the school?
➢ What system do you have for translation and interpretation, in particular?
➢ How can you tap local bilingualism, either paying local people to translate material or organizing bilingual volunteers to pitch in on translation and interpretation in a way that doesn't take too much of their time?
➢ How can you build on parent-parent relationships to pull all parents into school events and conversation?
➢ What tech training do parents need in order to get information? How could you help all parents get this training?
➢ Which efforts at parent information should be a task for school staff rather than volunteers?

The Next Layer: Connecting to Folks Doing Similar Work in Other Communities.

We'd love to spark a lively exchange between people working on similar things.

Want to talk further?

Are you working on improving communications in your own school or community?

Contact point people for the Parent Connector Network directly at:

Jedd Cohen (jic378@mail.harvard.edu); Tona DelMonico (tona_d@comcast.net) Ana Maria Nieto (amn956@mail.harvard.edu); Mica Pollock (mica.pollock@gmail.com)

Click here for the <font color="#0000FF">Overview and key findings</font> on this project; click here for the <font color="#0000FF">Expanded story</font> on this project.