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9-R’s Escuela para Padres, or ‘School for Parents,’ breaks down communication barriers

Learning sessions help Spanish-speaking families understand school resources
Durango School District 9-R staff addresses parents in Spanish and English during the first Escuela para Padres session Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

Durango School District 9-R is trying to create better communication with its Spanish-speaking families through a new educational series called Escuela para Padres or School for Parents.

Through the educational sessions, the school district is attempting to help Spanish-speaking families better navigate school resources such as the parent portal, free and reduced lunch, and mental health support.

Other topics include discussion of services for bullying, sexual harassment and substance use.

The series had its first class Wednesday night at Park Elementary. Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of every month until April 19, except in December. Locations will alternate between Park Elementary and Escalante Middle School.

The sessions are led by 9-R Bilingual Liaison Gabby Rico-Alvarez who has a personal connection with being a Spanish-speaking parent in the district.

“I understand those kinds of barriers and I'm happy to receive the support to create this program and to provide the parents resources so they have a better idea about how our school system works,” Rico-Alvarez said.

Escuela para Padres Schedule

  • Nov. 16 at Escalante Middle School
  • Jan. 18 at Park Elementary School
  • Feb. 15 at Escalante Middle School
  • March 15 at Park Elementary School
  • April 19 at Escalante Middle School

Speakers present in both Spanish and English and participants wear headsets for translation. The district provides an interpreter who speaks into a device and it translates an attendee’s preferred language into the headset.

“This allows all participants to engage with questions and it’s pretty cool that everyone can be heard and understood,” said 9-R spokeswoman Karla Sluis.

Meeting topics were developed after Rico-Alvarez conducted research on community concerns and completed a phone survey with parents at Park Elementary and Escalante Middle School.

“I think it’s necessary to have a program like this,” said Rico-Alvarez. “It teaches parents how our schools are different from their country, and not only the language – the whole system and culture is different.”

Rico-Alvarez said different countries have different processes for student enrollment which can confuse families when enrolling students in U.S. school districts.

Rico-Alvarez is originally from Mexico and said students there only need to enroll once at each school whereas in 9-R, students must enroll every year regardless of whether they change schools.

From surveys Rico-Alvarez conducted, she discovered counseling services for bullying were a concern among Spanish-speaking families. Rico-Alvarez said parents had questions about who they should contact if their child is being bullied or where students can go to receive help.

Another major talking point is substance use, especially among middle school and high school students. She said substance use has been prevalent for those age groups, and parents should be able to communicate with their kids about the topic.

“We provide resources and information to the parents so they can feel more prepared to support their kids,” she said.

Rico-Alvarez encourages students to attend with their parents to listen and express opinions or problems they may have with any of the topics.

The project aligns with the district’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging efforts involving language justice.

9-R Director of Student Support Services Vanessa Giddings said the district has had some past communication problems with families who speak different languages.

Most of these problems revolved around grade-level placement, school schedules and how students are graded.

“Our district has been really intentional in recognizing what we can do better through family surveys,” Giddings said.

She said the Escuela para Padres sessions were important because they eliminate confusion brought on by language barriers.


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