Sixty percent of students in the Austin school district are Hispanic. And more than half of those students are English language learners with parents who do not speak English or are also learning the language.
That can make it difficult for some parents to stay involved in their children’s education, and AISD is trying to bridge that gap with La Que Buena, 104.3-FM.
Every Sunday between 8 and 10 a.m., AISD spokesman Alex Sanchez can be heard on La Que Buena as host of EducaAustin, a Spanish-language radio show that broadcasts to Hispanic parents in the district. It’s a mix of guest appearances, listener call-ins and district news segments. Topics range from bullying and discipline to what the standardized test acronym STAAR stands for.
The show started as a pilot project in May 2012.
“It’s useful information that parents can act on so that their kids can get better programs, services,” Sanchez said. “They might get a phone number, a tip on how to navigate a system that sometimes is not easy.”
A district survey found that Spanish-speaking adults listen to the radio seven to nine hours a day.
“The new radio show is an intentional initiative to begin working and reaching out to a community that has been disenfranchised, that we haven’t been as successful reaching,” Sanchez said. “We know moving forward if we want every child to get quality education we need parents to be with us.”
Maria Guadalupe Fernandez has five children, and three go to school in the district. She says she and her children listen to the show together:
“By the time it starts, I’m fixing breakfast,” Fernandez said. “Then we have breakfast together, and at the end, when the show wraps up, I’m cleaning up the kitchen.”
Fernandez's oldest son dropped out of high school his senior year. She says the show has helped her become more involved in her younger children’s education.
“We love it because it helps us remember stuff from back when we were in school, and it helps us get ready so that when our kids grow, we know where to find other sources of help,” she said. “I want to be better equipped for my other kids.”
Alex Sanchez says for many parents, this is the best -- and sometimes only -- way to connect with the district.
"As an immigrant myself, a person who migrated to this country at 10, as an English language learner, as a son of parents who did not speak English who did not go to board meetings, I understand the need for more information and to help parents understand how the system works, rights and responsibilities,” she said.
Monica Sanchez, president of the Austin Council of PTAs, agrees. She's appeared as a guest on EducaAustin twice. She says any program that gets parents more involved is positive.
“I think just knowing that information and giving it to parents that are listening is really powerful,” she said. “A lot of parents are too busy and they don’t understand they have a role in their children’s lives, and hearing it from someone else helps them open their eyes and understand why its important to participate.”
AISD has allocated $60,000 in the 2014 budget to pay for the radio show. The rest of the money comes from partnerships with private companies.