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Breaking through Language Barriers

Melissa Deavers-Lowie and David Lesich share three reasons to use a district-wide communication platform

With about 7,200 students speaking 20 different languages, our district needs technology tools that support its diverse student population and families. Up until last year, we used standard postal mail for most of our parent communications, with some announcements distributed via social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) and email.

With stamps costing 55 cents each multiplied by 7,200 students, sending those communications several times a year added up quickly. We also needed a system that could help us break through language barriers and accurately translate the messages that were being sent home. Finally, we wanted to make sure all communications were secure and that our platform would integrate with PowerSchool, our student information system (SIS).

We found what we were looking for: a unified communications resource that offers a safe and secure platform to manage all school–home communication. We put it in place just prior to the pandemic and immediately began seeing the benefits of our decision. Here are three of them:

1) No more language barriers
When your student body speaks 20 different languages, some families may encounter challenges in trying to interpret your messages. To help, we needed a communication platform that would accurately translate the messages we were distributing and then ensure that those messages were getting home and that parents understood the information we were sharing. With the knowledge that students with involved, informed parents tend to achieve higher levels of success in school, this wasn’t a gap we were willing to leave open. Fortunately, our platform catered to the diverse number of languages we have in our district, with its translation services a huge draw for us.

2) Secure document delivery
All eyes are on security and safety right now, and delivering documents electronically presents a unique set of challenges that we’ve been able to overcome using our communication platform. We send out three to five mailings per year that include student invoices, state test results, and other important documents. The only platform that allows variable-length documents in the master file, ParentSquare’s secure document delivery lets districts define their own templates and includes text, app, and email notifications that reach families in their preferred modality and language. The secure platform also generates a separate PDF file of documents for parents who did not receive them and lets us print and mail these “missed” documents, thus ensuring 100% deliverability and equity.

3) Not just “blasting” out information
Having one platform that accommodates all of the district’s parent communication needs has been a godsend. Our parent surveys, permission slips, and secure documents are all shared on the platform, which also allows parents to sign up for appointment times and opens up two-way communications with those individuals.

We’re no longer just blasting out information. This is especially helpful for parents who have multiple children attending school in the district, which previously used applications like Remind 101 and SignUpGenius for appointments. Now it’s all in one place.

Today, all our parent communications take place on our communication platform. We can send out text messages, create social media posts, or use other forms of communication to reach parents. It’s definitely a long-term solution for us and one that we’ll continue to hone and learn to use more effectively for the 2021–22 school year.

Melissa Deavers-Lowie is the director of communications and community engagement and David Lesich is the director of data services at Portage Township Schools in Indiana.

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