Like many places around the country, in the past decade Denver has had to deal with complications that come from educating a growing number of students who come from households where Spanish is the first language. That means the district has had to invest more money into ESL classes and ensure that language wasn’t a barrier to accessing student and family support services. But the toughest problem faced by the district was how to keep parents involved in their kids’ schooling when they weren’t fluent English speakers.
The solution was Educa Radio, a program sponsored by Denver Public School District that airs in Spanish on one of the city’s popular Spanish-language radio stations. Hosted by Salvador “Chava” Carrera, the show serves as a way to deliver education-related news to Spanish-speaking parents and allows their concerns to be heard by English-speaking district administrators.
The topics covered on the show run the gamut. In a recent show, Carrera spent an hour talking about the difficulties that LGBTQ students face on Denver school campuses due to “relentless bullying.”
“I knew it was going to be a sensitive topic because my audience tends to be conservative about gay and lesbian issues, but it’s a real problem and something that deserves to be talked about.”
Carrera says he opened the segment, in which he interviewed one of the district’s school psychologists, by assuring listeners that the discussion was not “condoning or trying to persuade anyone’s sexual orientation” but rather an attempt to ensure that all kids deserve to live free from bullying.
Then he opened up the phone lines.
The show struck a chord with listeners who, Carrera says, still send him thank you emails for opening up a dialogue about the once “taboo” issue.
According to Vanessa Romo of Take Part, that was far from the only difficult topic tackled on the show. Carrera invites guests to talk about things like teen pregnancy, to debate the value of being bilingual, and even to talk families through the process of obtaining financial aid for college. Among those who stop by the show frequently are state senators Mike Johnston and Jessie Ulibari, who take questions about immigration issues and documentation.
The radio program was Denver Public Schools’ answer to a question more and more school districts are struggling with: How do you engage the growing population of non-English speaking Hispanic parents?
It was a problem that plagued DPS even as the Spanish-speaking student population steadily increased. They currently account for nearly 40 percent of the district’s enrollment (roughly 32,000 students). Over the years DPS implemented a variety of outreach initiatives that failed to connect with Hispanic parents. But when the district partnered with a local Spanish commercial music station, the impact was immediate.
Within six months of the first broadcast in 2009, school officials reported doubling the calls received from Spanish-speaking parents to the district’s general information line. Similarly, attendance by Hispanic families to parent-teacher conferences, workshops on how to apply for college, health and safety expos, and other school-sponsored events—all of which were heavily promoted on the air—went up by the thousands.