Our team is constantly talking to our school partners to identify the barriers families and educators face in creating strong, enduring family engagement so we can build tools to overcome them. As 2021 comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of some of the barriers many families face – language and literacy, technology access, time, confidence among others – and how grateful I am that we’ve played our part in alleviating them. Here are the top three things I’m most proud of this year:
Supporting more families across more languages
In 2021, we added new languages to the TalkingPoints platform, which can support refugee and marginalized populations. Building strong connections with families in their home languages when they first arrive is vital to newcomer student and family success.
Consider the influx of Afghan refugees. The departure of American troops this year led to a rapid influx of Afghan immigrant students in U.S. schools, many of whom are likely experiencing the trauma of fleeing from violence. We added Dari, a dialect spoken by nearly half the population of Afghanistan, to Farsi and Pashto, which we already offered in our translation solution. (Check out how some districts, including our partners in Buffalo, New York, are leading the way to support Afghani refugee students.)
In 2021, we also added other languages spoken by refugees and other marginalized groups, including Odia (spoken in India), Tatar (spoken in Russia), Turkmen (spoken in Turkmenistan), and Uyghur (spoken in the Xianjian region of China).
Dismantling education jargon
Sometimes the barrier isn’t just language — it’s about understanding the educational term being used.
Schools also use so many complicated terms and jargon. Pick your favorite. Mine is “asynchronous” instruction (can’t we just say “not live!” instruction?). Our glossary defines “asynchronous” as “forms of instruction that do not occur in the same place or at the same time,” giving families more useful information than a literal translation.
Our Parent Ed101 tool in the TalkingPoints for Parents app helps explain these terms. So when your teacher reminds you of the upcoming “assessment” you can click that word and realize it’s just a fancy word for something we all know (and dread!), a test.
Support from all educators
Finally, COVID reminded us that the rostered teachers aren’t the only adults who impact the lives of students. The bus driver shortage crisis exposed the importance of transportation workers. The mental health crisis revealed the importance of guidance counselors and social workers. The public health crisis made everyone appreciate school nurses. It does take a village.
And yet despite the obvious importance of these professionals, the reality is that many apps make it impossible for non-rostered staff to use their platform. We added features in 2021 so that administrators can expand access to the full learning, health, and support teams at schools. From Pickerington in Ohio, to Seattle, Washington, our partners are giving bus drivers, nurses and many more of these vital support staff use of the platform to have two-way, real-time translated conversations with families the same way that teachers can.
We will be taking a much-needed rest this holiday season so that we can return in 2022 ready to add new features to address the needs of all students, all families, and all educators. And we wish all of you a happy, healthy, and restful break, too. See you in 2022!