How a school district leans into technology to serve families who speak other languages

Pass or Fail

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — Mary Carmen Plonce and her family immigrated to Springdale, Arkansas, just a couple years ago.

“At that time, in my children’s school, it was very difficult to find an interpreter, to obtain communication in Spanish or any engagement for parents. All those situations were very difficult,” she said through an interpreter.

Her three kids were immediately enrolled in school. Her oldest son, Diego Rivera, took all the classes any high schooler would, while also learning to speak a whole new language.

“It was hard to understand translations and we had to ask many family members or friends,” Rivera recalled.

Springdale Public Schools shoots a video for its new multi-language online outreach effort (KNWA Photo)
Springdale Public Schools shoots a video for its new multi-language online outreach effort (KNWA Photo)

The school district is 47% Hispanic and 13% Marshallese. A lot of those families are learning English as a second language. This year brings a new set of rules and guidelines that could be deadly if they aren’t translated or followed.

“If you can’t get the information to them — how do we maintain a sense of community? How do we maintain a sense of educational integrity?” Springdale Public Schools Director of Communications Trent Jones asked.

So, the district invested heavily in communications improvements.

One of the first investments was hiring Maribel Tapia as an English as a Second Language, or ESL, communication specialist. She’s just one of the new bilingual staff members working on content creation in multiple languages, including new shows called “Asi Es Springdale” and “Marshallese TV.”

The content now goes out on a number of platforms, including on the web, social media and TV.

“It is definitely very important for families to have this information, to know what they have to do and why they have to do it,” Tapia said.

And, look at the results: Millions of engagements on Facebook since August, new social media accounts gaining thousands of followers and hundreds of eyes on the district’s new broadcasts.

  • Engagements on Springdale Public Schools social media accounts (KNWA Photo)
  • YouTube channel views for Springdale Public Schools' YouTube account (KNWA Photo)
  • YouTube channel impressions for Springdale Public Schools' YouTube account (KNWA Photo)

“We want all of our parents to know we are doing everything we can, particularly during this coronavirus crisis, to make sure they are plugged in,” Jones said.

The extra work does not come cheap. The district has increased its communications budget by 20% this year. And, there continues to be the issue of a digital gap, especially among minority populations. According to Pew Research in 2019, 57% of Hispanics in the United States reported having a computer.

To help, the district provides every student in Kindergarten through 12th grade with either an iPad or a Chromebook so they all have access to a computer.

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