At a glance: Aurora Public Schools
Located in Colorado’s third-most populated city, Aurora Public Schools’ 58 schools serve more than 38,000 students who hail from 130 countries and speak 160 different languages; 75% receive free or reduced-price lunch, and 15% benefit from special education programs.
One of the most linguistically diverse school districts in America
Aurora Public Schools (APS) prides itself on its richly diverse community as one of the country’s most linguistically diverse school districts. Removing barriers to supporting and engaging with all its families is central to the district’s core values. As Efrén Ortiz, Aurora’s Language Services Supervisor, notes:
“Having experienced my own journey as an English language learner, I deeply understand the significance of offering high-quality language services to our families and staff. It’s essential to create an environment where communication flows effortlessly and students are not asked to interpret for their families. Engaging our multilingual families remains a top priority within Aurora Public Schools, where we pride ourselves on being barrier breakers.”
APS needed a solution with robust language support to communicate easily and accurately with their families, who had provided feedback that machine-translated messages were sometimes inaccurate and often difficult to understand. This need was made more acute in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic shut down in-person learning, and the district needed an immediate, accurate, and scalable way to connect with families.
“Historically, our department had received feedback from multilingual families that machine translation was not always accurate and difficult to understand.” – Efrén Ortiz, Language Services Supervisor
APS brought TalkingPoints for Schools & Districts on board in the spring of 2020 to provide the depth and quality of translated communication they would need to help families and teachers connect as they pivoted to distance learning. The district moved quickly with coordination and leadership from APS’s four edtech coaches to bring TalkingPoints to every school. The platform’s intuitive nature only needed minimal staff training, and within the first year, families and educators exchanged nearly 1.5 million messages. Since then, engagement has more than doubled, surpassing 3 million messages during the 2022-23 school year.
“I wish all of the vendors we work with were like TalkingPoints! Our history dates back to the pandemic and the need to provide properly translated messages to our families. From the beginning, the folks at TalkingPoints have always had our backs. Whether it was the implementation, the Professional Development, or the ongoing problem-solving that occurs, I know I can always count on them to be there with the answers we need.” – Dusty Burton, EdTech Coordinator
Using TalkingPoints to streamline attendance reporting
Next, the district expanded on the successful family-school engagement practices it had built with TalkingPoints to tackle another pain point: attendance reporting. The processes for reporting student absences were overwhelming front office staff and sometimes difficult for their multilingual families. They wanted an easier, more intuitive way to empower parents and caregivers to share why their student would be absent to inform absenteeism mitigation strategies and what resources they could offer to help.
So, for the 2022-23 school year, APS piloted a new process that uses TalkingPoints to streamline absence reporting for families in their home language, and that makes it easy for them to share the reasons why.
“Because of TalkingPoints’ commitment to accurate and understandable translation through the use of human translators, this collaboration has proven highly successful in facilitating two-way communication with our diverse, multilingual families.” – Efrén Ortiz, Language Services Supervisor
The district quickly launched this solution to pilot schools, and district families can now text or send messages to their schools through the TalkingPoints for Families app to report their student’s absence and do so in their home language.
“They are a vendor that’s been willing to go on journeys with us to improve our systems, which is a rarity today. I wholeheartedly appreciate the partnership that we have developed with those at TalkingPoints and, through the use of their tool, can show the positive impact on students and families!” – Dusty Burton, EdTech Coordinator
Using technology to remove barriers
The absence reporting pilot exemplifies the district’s philosophy of partnering deeply with families to help students succeed and APS’s continued commitment, innovation, and use of technology to remove barriers. In the edWebinar “Reversing Revenue Declines: Strategies that Boost Enrollment, Attendance and Graduation” Patti Moon, Aurora Public School’s Chief Communication Officer, shared more about how the district works to build a shared understanding with families about the importance of kids coming to school, how they work to address underlying causes of absenteeism, and how collecting important data from families informs this approach:
“First, making clear to families why attendance is important, so sharing some of the data around why we need your students at school every day — then making sure that we’re digging in with families on why attendance might be a challenge. What are the barriers those families are currently facing, and how can school staff support families in addressing some of those barriers? Understanding the barriers and then problem-solving together around those barriers is key.” – Patti Moon, Chief Communication Officer
By making it easy for families to share why and when their student is absent using the same familiar system they already use with their student’s teachers, district schools can better understand how to support each family’s needs. Patti speaks to the importance of gathering data from families, sharing an example of an older student struggling with attendance because they need to help with childcare for their younger siblings and how the district can connect the family with community resources to help address the challenge.
The district is now in its second year using TalkingPoints to streamline attendance reporting for staff and families and to build deeper insights to support family needs.
“It’s just been an incredible tool for our schools. We are a district that’s committed to providing multilingual communication, so we translate all our district-level messages, we have a welcome center with liaisons that work with families in multiple languages, and we have interpreters that work with families – but even with all those things, TalkingPoints is just such an incredible technology tool that allows us to go further and keep that two-way communication door open. It’s been great. Our schools use TalkingPoints like crazy.” – Patti Moon, Chief Communication Officer