TalkingPoints’ multilingual family engagement platform helps build relationships and increase engagement between students, teachers, and families
Meet Wake County and East Garner Magnet Middle School
Wake County is the largest school district in North Carolina, and one of the largest districts in the nation. East Garner Magnet Middle School is located in Garner, a farming hub in the southeastern region of the district and eight miles from Raleigh. As of the 2019-20 school year, nearly one-third of the district’s student population qualified for free or reduced lunch and nearly 10% were limited English proficient. The demographics are constantly changing in Garner, a booming “water tower town” and most recently a new hub for Amazon, opening thousands of jobs for Wake County citizens.
Challenges and Objectives: Diverse Translation and Communication Needs
Prior to using TalkingPoints, one challenge East Garner struggled with was keeping track of students’ home languages and maintaining up-to-date contact information. It was often difficult for teachers to keep track of the primary home languages in their classrooms because they were constantly changing, as the population is highly transitional with a large number of families regularly moving in and out of the area.
At East Garner Middle, English and Spanish were traditionally the main languages spoken at students’ homes. Now, they are seeing an increase of diverse languages including Mandarin, Karen, and different dialects of Arabic. Districts typically go through a process for translation services, but languages that are not as common are often not as accessible. Prior to using TalkingPoints, finding translation for these languages often had to be contracted out, which took time when families wanted or needed responses immediately.
Additionally, when the pandemic hit, there was suddenly an immediate increased need for communication between teachers and families – from making sure families’ technology needs were being met, to making sure they were getting information on school assignments and assessments. Wake County also had a need for a more streamlined, easy-to-access way to send resources to families now that everything was being done virtually.
Solution: TalkingPoints, a Multilingual Family Engagement Platform
With TalkingPoints, Wake County has found solutions to some of their largest challenges:
- Two-way communication with translation in over 100 languages. Teachers are able to use either the web browser or the mobile web app, while parents can choose to use text messages or the mobile app. Messages written in English are automatically translated into the recipient’s home language, and any home language is translated back into English.
- An easy-to-use communication tool that increases communication between teachers and families. Teachers can check in on students and families with ease, and also share important information related to resources, assignments, and more.
- Additional features to send in messages such as polls, links, videos, and attachments/PDFs, to ensure both teachers and families are getting all the information they need in the most seamless way possible.
The use of the TalkingPoints platform district-wide led to an immediate solution to their translation needs, enhanced relationships between students, families, and teachers, and streamlined resources for both teachers and families.
Alexis Lisenby, the intervention coordinator and parent family engagement coach at East Garner Magnet Middle School, shared more about three main ways TalkingPoints has solved problems, broken down barriers, and given families a voice.
TalkingPoints helps get immediate translation and communication with families without the inconvenient lag or wait time. According to Lisenby, a big component was that sometimes those translations that had to be contracted out weren’t in the right dialect. “[TalkingPoints] gave parents the voice and choice to select what they were comfortable with and making sure that the dialect was correct.”
Another translation issue that TalkingPoints has helped alleviate is lightening the burden on siblings of having to translate everything for their family and sometimes extended family members as well.
Lisenby shared a story of a former student who saw the technology survey that was sent out, and was trying to fill it out for her mom because she had a sister who was coming in this year, and also had a couple cousins at the school as well. She reached out to Lisenby, sharing that her mom and aunt were nervous to fill out the survey because they only knew Spanish. That’s when Lisenby called her former student, told her all about TalkingPoints, and told her to let her mom know they would be using the platform, and it would help to take away some of that anxiety.
The student shared their appreciation and that sometimes, it was exhausting being the middle man of translating that information.
“I know that [that student] would do anything for her family, but I think sometimes we take a step back and we forget that burden or that extra pressure or just extra step they have to do. You could feel from her, just a little less anxiety.
“Translating is one of the big selling points but I don’t know that we emphasize enough the impact it has. Not just on the immediate family, or teacher or district, but even the siblings or an advocate or other individuals that are impacted by this platform.”
Enhanced relationships between families and teachers – and between staff members and colleagues – has been another big change that the use of TalkingPoints has brought to the district.
When the school closures began due to the pandemic, the school used TalkingPoints strategically to let parents know they could use the platform at any time to reach out to any of their regularly scheduled teachers – whether that was their child’s homeroom teacher that they felt like they had a relationship with, or another teacher from a different subject or class.
“It gave parents the opportunity to build relationships with teachers in a quick communication lifeline,” Lisenby said.
One thing that has brought parents a great amount of ease is the fact that they still have someone they can contact through last year’s schedule, even if this year’s aren’t updated yet. If teachers are still employed through the school, parents can still send a message.
According to Lisenby, TalkingPoints has served as a safe net. Families know that at the very least, if they use the app and reach out to one of their child’s former teachers, they will get an immediate response vs. calling the school secretary’s phone or even the school’s technology contact. “It’s making those families in such a large district not feel like a number and help ease some of those anxieties,” she shared, which is something she is very passionate about as a leader.
The staff culture at East Garner Magnet was also positively affected by the use of TalkingPoints. Lisenby shared that often communication can be lonely, especially in secondary school settings, as teachers primarily interact with their department or grade level and people don’t always know what each other are doing behind the scenes. During this time and through the use of TalkingPoints, the staff took a lot of time praising each other.
“Because [the platform] was transparent with those conversations, staff would shout out specific teachers who advocated for their students or navigated challenging conversations with parents. This really helped build capacity with learning how to answer and handle those questions, but also changed the culture of how we view each other as staff,” Lisenby said.
A third way that TalkingPoints has helped family engagement at East Garner Middle is streamlined resources for both families and teachers.
When the governor announced that school was not going back in the middle of March, the school had families immediately reaching out to them asking, “How do I get in contact with my teachers?” The school appreciated that TalkingPoints offered the feature – if parents had previously opted out of messages, but wanted to come back and resubscribe they could – but it left it to the parents. They had the voice and choice of how those messages were delivered, whether that was through text messages or through the app.
Lisenby reflected that sometimes families get discouraged when they just hear “contact your teacher” – in a secondary setting, schedules are constantly changing and this can create confusion and anxiety. “With TalkingPoints, what we appreciated is, even though schedules were changing due to semester changes, they synced with PowerSchool to Clever (a platform they use for student schedules). Parents could easily see each elective teacher’s name and send messages to teachers through TalkingPoints if they had questions.”
Families liked how things were streamlined, as PDFs, links and resources were easy to find. Everything was all in one place and parents and guardians appreciated that they didn’t have to go searching.
Families’ technology needs are also constantly evolving, whether that be a hotspot or a device. East Garner used TalkingPoints strategically to send out surveys and polls to get a pulse on families’ technology needs and let them know they could use the platform at any time to reach out to any of their regularly scheduled teachers.
Another poll that proved to be a game-changer was a poll the district sent out for updated contact information on students and families. The school received 300 family responses out of 1300 – almost one-quarter of families had contact information that needed to be updated. As simple or logistical as it may sound, that would have been nearly 25% of the student population that would not have been getting important information, even more important during the pandemic and distance learning.
“Previously, you don’t usually see triple digit responses from families, especially in a middle school setting, and especially on top of that with everything going on in the world. That was something we were very proud of,” said Lisenby.
She noted that this was due in large part to the relationship and trust the school had built with families in the 2019-2020 school year, as well as being strategic with communicating via homeroom rosters, as this allowed the information to be sent out without being overwhelming or frustrating for families to receive the same message multiple times.
Looking ahead, Alexis hopes for additional features such as voice command and voice recordings to enable a two-way conversation and see facial expressions or hear the tone of each other’s voices.
She also would love to see additional messaging capabilities so that groups such as sports teams, extracurriculars, counselors, co-teachers, and peer mentors can send messages to all participants/members of a particular group.
“I think overall, the biggest component we talk about is ‘what starts here changes everything.’ And kids first. That is the overall goal. And I truly believe it helps remove some of those barriers. I feel like TalkingPoints is that bridge between your school and the families. It’s that bridge in bringing that unity,” Lisenby said.
She added, “The point is that everyone works together to help that student grow and be successful beyond their K-12 experience and career. And so I think that by using a platform like TalkingPoints, it’s modeling even to students the importance of communication and what that looks like, and how we communicate with each other. But the biggest thing that I feel like as a district is, it’s truly being intentional with communication and it’s making every student count, but also every moment matter.
In such a large district, you almost have 80,000 kids doing virtual academy, 160,000 kids total. We’re a large district. As a parent, I want my child to not just be a number. And I want to make sure that, especially being in a large district, I can still have those relationships with those teachers, when my child moves onto the next grade. Because at the end of the day, the goal is to get these children ready for college and their careers.”
Through the use of TalkingPoints, East Garner Magnet and Wake County have been able to build the capacity of teachers to answer parents’ questions, change the staff culture, and communicate with all families, while alleviating the burden on students and siblings that have to translate for their families.
“I just want every family to not fall through the cracks, make sure they are noticed and taken care of, and that they have a voice. I think TalkingPoints removes a lot of barriers and allows families to have that voice, and again, be that bridge between schools and families.”
Want to Learn More?
TalkingPoints’ easy-to-use platform, interactive features, and precise translation in over 100 languages can provide game-changing solutions for bridging the home-school gap for teachers, school districts, and families. Learn more about our services here, and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how TalkingPoints can increase family engagement, improve home-school connections, enhance relationships between teachers and families, and support academic and social-emotional growth for every student.
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