Parent connector network2

(Note to documenters: In this summary, quickly tell the reader a, b, and c:

a. Communication we set forth to improve. (What aspect of communication did we set forth to improve, so that more people in Somerville could collaborate in young people's success?)

b. Main communication improvement(s). (What is the main communication improvement we made? What new support for young people may have resulted?)

c. Main communication realization. (What's your main realization about needed improvements to the communication infrastructure of public education? Who needs to communicate what information to whom, through which media, in order to support youth in a diverse community? Which barriers are in the way of such communication, and how might these barriers be overcome?)

Over the course of two years, we met parents particularly committed to improving communication in their K-8 school and continuously pulled them into this Working Group. Throughout, we have been working to help ensure that all parents in a multilingual and class-diverse school can access important information about and from their school and share ideas with other parents.

In the past year, we have particularly worked to include immigrant parents in this loop of school info and input. We focused on creating a "Parent Connector Network," in which bilingual parents ("Connectors") use phones, Googleforms, and a hotline to help get information to and from more recently immigrated parents who speak their language.

We now are working with 3 Spanish-speaking, 3 Portuguese-speaking, and 2 Haitian Creole-speaking Connectors. Each Connector is calling approximately 10 other families once a month, to share key information from the principal and to ask questions about any issues parents are facing. The Connectors are also on call for questions from these parents at any time.

The Connectors have also become key innovators of translation and interpretation infrastructure schoolwide. We spent late spring 2011 finishing a full list of components of such infrastructure!

We've had countless ahas about improving the communication infrastructure of public education, and particularly, about improving the infrastructure for interpretation and translation.

(COLORED TEXT BOX: Here's ONE MAIN COMMUNICATION AHA: improving translation and interpretation in a multilingual school and district in part requires getting more organized about effectively using a key local resource: bilingualism.

Communication we set forth to improve

Say more. What aspect of communication did we want to improve, so that more people in Somerville could collaborate in young people's success?

(COLORED TEXT BOX: In the Parent Connector Network, as in our broader efforts to create a schoolwide communication toolkit, our goal was to figure out ways to better include all parents in a multilingual, class-diverse K-8 school.

At Somerville’s Healey School (K-8), as in many U.S. schools, parents hail from across the globe and speak many languages. In addition to barriers of language, disparities in tech access, tech training, and time -- and gaps in personal relationship and connections -- keep parents from being equally informed about school issues, events, and even educational opportunities.

Because language barriers particularly exclude parents from full participation, the Parent Connector Network has focused on reaching out to parents who speak the district's 3 main languages other than English: Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.

Begun in earnest in Winter 2011, the Parent Connector Network is a parent-led effort (in partnership with school administrators and staff) to support translation and parent-school relationships, by connecting bilingual parents (“Connectors”) to more recently immigrated parents via a phone tree. The Connectors have come to use phones, Google forms, and a hotline to help ensure that information reaches immigrant and low-income families who share a school.

In the Parent Connector network, we operated from a central principle: a child can’t be educated as effectively if parents aren’t included as key partners in the project. So, schools should ensure equal access to school information and dialogue, in order to promote inclusive participation in school life. We've also been working to build personal relationships between bilingual parents and immigrant parents in order to bring more voices into school debates and more people into school events and leadership.

Because each innovation the Connectors started needed other components to work effectively, we have come to think in terms of creating an "infrastructure" for low-cost translation and interpretation in a school. Over the 2010-11 school year, we've been fleshing out a full list of such systemic supports. The Parent Connector Network is a key component, but it's not the only one!


How we realized and redirected things, over time.

Basic History

The groundwork needed to support the current work.

As a multilingual group of parents (a few of whom speak only English), it has taken us two years to fully understand the barriers in the way of English learners' participation in English-dominant schools, and the full communication "infrastructure" necessary to include more immigrant parents as full partners in the project of supporting young people.

Before we started creating the Parent Connector Network in Winter 2011, we worked with families and teachers in several other design efforts to improve parent-school and parent-parent connections more broadly. Work to shape the Parent Connector Network actually began in Reading Night, our Parent Dialogues, and the Multilingual Coffee Hour.

We first focused our work at the Healey on parent relationships and schoolwide communication infrastructure, through trying several forms of face to face parent get-together to connect parents across lines of language, income, and program. In 2009 when we began our work, the K-8 Healey had 4 historically separated programs: a magnet K-6 program drawing disproportionately middle-class families from Somerville; a "Neighborhood" K-6 program disproportionately enrolling low income and immigrant families living around the school, including from the housing development a few steps away; a Special Education program, also disproportionately enrolling low income students of color and immigrants; and a middle school (7-8).

With parents from across the first three programs in a Kindergarten hallway at the Healey, we began in fall 2009 creating Reading Nights to link parents in face to face efforts to share information on reading with young children. (PHOTOS) Several of these parents formed the early core of the parents who would continue to work on schoolwide communication for two straight years. We worked together on a multilingual coffee hour, and some parent dialogues, and, finally, the Parent Connector Network. From the beginning, we wrestled with the particular issue of connecting English-speaking parents and staff with speakers of other languages. Over time, we realized the particular need for improving the communication infrastructure for translation and interpretation and focused full force on the Parent Connector Network in winter/spring 2011.

Communication ahas, implementation ahas, and turning points!

We had the following communication conclusions, implementation nonces, and turning points. To read the full accounting

Main article: Parent connector network/Ah-has

"At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat."


Please describe final outcomes and share examples of final products, with discussion!

Concrete communication improvements

What is the main communication improvement we made? What new support for young people may have resulted?

We are proud to say that the Parent Connector vision and project is now part of the unified Healey School's school site plan. We have a core of volunteer Connectors making calls and ready for fall, and we have two great leaders, one of whom, already a Creole-speaking staff member, we hope will be supported 5 hrs/week.

Main communication realizations and implementation realizations

What is your main realization about needed improvements to the communication infrastructure of public education? (Who needs to communicate what information to whom, through which media, in order to support youth in a diverse community? Which barriers are in the way of such communication, and how might these barriers be overcome?)

What is your main realization about implementing these innovations in education?

MAIN COMMUNICATION AHA: All schools need systems for getting information to everyone; diverse schools need them in particular. Structural improvements can both send the message that everyone is to be included, and, actually help include everyone.

Here's ANOTHER MAIN COMMUNICATION AHA: improving translation and interpretation in a multilingual school and district in part requires getting more organized about effectively using a key local resource: bilingualism.

The Healey School enrolls a full U.S. range of families. Some are deeply empowered in their home-school communications (e.g., middle-class parents who email the principal and Superintendent constantly, and some are left out of the most basic communications of schooling (some have no computers and no internet.; one told her Connector she’d been trying for a year to meet with her child’s teacher.) A listserv has long enrolled only some. Robocalls home go in four languages; handouts home often don't. For many, parent teacher conferences require interpreters, and scheduling those interpreters itself is a structural communication problem.

Time is also of the essence: some families have time/resource to volunteer countless hours during the school day. In contrast, one Portuguese-speaking dad we knew of worked such long hours he didn't even have time to come to school to post a paper sign saying he wanted to pay someone to help him drive his daughter to school after he left for work. His "Connector" made the sign for him. (INTERVIEW WITH MARIA ON THIS?)

Communication from school to home is a huge issue in any diverse school, particularly across boundaries of language and tech access/training. In an era when most people work too much to talk face to face very often, getting information to all families and get input from all families requires a thoughtful infrastructure tapping (and in some cases, paying for) a key local resource: bilingualism.

The Connectors themselves are a key local resource, as people willing to be on call to answer other parents' questions in their language and to monthly share information that requires additional explanation.

IMPLEMENTATION AHA: Overall, we’ve learned that committed and diverse parents can be expert innovators of school infrastructure if they care deeply about all parents having a full range of supports. That’s because they have a full range of experiences from which to brainstorm those supports.

We fleshed out other components of the necessary “infrastructure” to make schoolwide translation efficient, and to make the Connectors' volunteer role not overly time-consuming: a Googledoc as one organized place where the principal and school leaders put info that most needs dissemination/translation each month, by Translators of the Month and Connectors; Google forms for Connectors to record parents’ needs; Google spreadsheets for lists of approved parent numbers. Robocalls (ADD SCREEN SHOT?) home, using the district’s existing system for school-home calls, but targeting the calls to be specific to language groups and at times, recorded by friendly parent voices.

Small infrastructural “moves” can help: one parent noted that at another school, they put information at the top of every handout indicating where you can go to get a translated version of the information (over time, our Hotline).

COMMUNICATION AHA: A key issue we’re still trying to understand is where the line is between translation/interpretation that bilingual parents can/will do as volunteers to serve their community, and when the district has to pay professionals. A parent in a federally funded district has a civil right to translation and interpretation if she needs it to access important parent information (including at parent-teacher conferences). But all districts are strapped for money and bilingual skills are true community resources. Some of this may be simply about organizing resources most effectively. Turlock Unified School District in California has a model where parents are trained and paid as professional interpreters and translators. Somerville’s Welcome Project already trains young people this way in their LIPS program, to translate at public events ( But adults are most comfortable with certain one on one communications from other adults. So, which communications could trained adults handle particularly effectively, and at a lower cost than sending everything to the PIC?

MAIN COMMUNICATION AHA: Along with will, systems are needed or material just doesn’t get translated.

The principal made clear that he needs to think in terms of “systems” for translation. Otherwise, disorganization means that things don’t get translated! Commitment to fully including all parents is key, but structural disorganization certainly can block communication too.

P.S.: In a multilingual community where not everyone uses computers, some lack access to information because of translation gaps and some because of a gap in basic tech knowledge. We learned early on in our work in Somerville that the problem is not necessarily one of computer access (the nearby housing project has many computers) as much as one of training. Even many parents in the school’s magnet program didn't know how to get on its listserv. Now that the school is creating a schoolwide listerv, these issues will rise to the fore. And having people equally speak up on the common listserv, in whatever language, will be the next frontier!

In Winter 2011, we attempted to hold a "get an Email" night at the Healey, but it wasn't well attended; this crucial puzzle piece needs further development. If there isn't a good multilingual communication infrastructure, it's hard to get people out for any face to face tech training event! Combining the Connector network with email training may be a good solution, especially as the school goes from having a listserv only for the magnet program to a listserv for all. Especially in a community where there are many community-oriented technologists, there's really no reason why everyone eventually shouldn't have basic tech skills. See Computer Infrastructure.

MAIN IMPLEMENTATION AHA: Nothing can stop a creative group of committed parents.

Technological how-tos

Describe "how to" use every tool you used, so that others could do the same. Describe "how to" make every tool you made!

As a group of non-technologists, Googleform and Googlespreadsheet setup took us a bit of learning!

Hotline setup was a task for Seth. Learning how to record on it: In April, we were still sitting at the computer talking into it, or, those of us with Audacity on our computers could record from home and send Seth the files. Over the summer, we xxxxx.

Things we’d expand/do differently

If you wanted to replicate any of this, what would you need to think about? Contact us to learn/talk more!

-Consider the current and needed infrastructural components at your school. Can everyone who needs to get and share important school information, get and share it? If not, what barriers are in the way and how can those be overcome?

-What key infrastructural “moves” would get the most people, the most information?

-How can bilingualism be treated as a key resource?

-What tech training do these volunteers need?