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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators

Rethinking “coffee and conversation”

One district’s approach to connecting with Spanish speaking families

By Gabriela Alonso | January | February 2022
In the last 18 months, Riverside Unified School District gained greater insight into the unique needs of students and families and recognized the importance of equity in communication. On March 23, 2020, “Cafecito” Facebook Live emerged to connect with Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers unable to access district communications, particularly newcomer families from Guatemala. The goal was to communicate with families and cascade information and resources, including how to access student meals, devices and hotspots, distance learning supports, and local health updates. Sixty Spanish-speaking families connected for the first live feed, and more than 400 families viewed the recording by week’s end. Each Monday, questions, comments, and requests from the audience multiplied. We found that “Cafecito” created a community, built relationships through peer support, and offered parents a safe place to ask for help.

In addition, Cafecito empowered parents to take leadership roles within their neighborhoods and identify families who needed support. Parents participating in Cafecito soon became liaisons within their communities, sharing district updates and encouraging other parents to connect to Family Engagement Webinars and seek help from the district Family Resource Center. In addition, families confided in their friends and neighbors to seek out information about their school. Through Cafecito, families became informed and empowered to engage in their student’s learning and well-being. Connections with the Consulado of Guatemala enabled district communications to reach families in their native Mayan languages of Q’anjob’al and Quiché.
Cafecito has become one of the most sought-after family engagement activities, including short presentations from district personnel and community partners. With over 500 weekly views, Cafecito has shifted from a rapid response to a proven way of connecting with our Spanish-speaking community. District communications have also changed to support English learner households. Communication to families now consists of texts, phone calls, voice messages, emails, letters, fliers, recorded videos and live streams. With student demographics of 65 percent Hispanic and 15.8 percent English learners, communicating with families requires continuous assessment of communication tools and protocols.
In addition to equipping students with devices and hotspots, supplying parents and caregivers with computers is a high priority. Continued web communications, online support, resources and virtual programming have heightened the need to provide computers to families. In response, RUSD has partnered with the County of Riverside to bridge the digital divide within the local community. The Digital Equity Program equips parents and caregivers with basic computer skills, access to district and school resources, and introduces families to Aeries Parent Portal. Upon completing eight hours of instruction, families receive a refurbished desktop computer loaded with Microsoft Office software and a wireless broadband access device. The Digital Equity Program curriculum includes an overview of the following:
  • Zoom user basics
  • Computer hardware, operating systems, and software
  • Review of Windows 10
  • Basic functions of the internet
  • Low-cost internet and everyoneon.org
  • Browser/search engines
  • Internet security
  • Microsoft and Google
  • Email accounts and social media
  • Online educational resources
  • Navigating riversideunified.org and school websites
  • Aeries Parent Portal
As a partner of Frontier Communications and the California Emerging Technology Fund, RUSD recently accepted a donation of 500 Chromebook laptops for families. The Chromebooks, intended to support student learning at home, will be disbursed to eligible families.
Continued web communications, online support, resources, and virtual programming have heightened the need to provide computers to families.
“This donation will allow families to communicate efficiently and effectively with their school site while keeping up with their student’s progress,” shared RUSD Superintendent Renee Hill. "On behalf of the Board of Education and RUSD family, we thank Frontier Communications and the California Emerging Technology Fund for the generous donation.” To qualify for a free Chromebook, families from targeted schools, including Central Middle School of Art and Innovation, Chemawa Middle School and University Heights Middle Schools, must meet specific eligibility requirements. With a student demographic of 64.8 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged, families and students need the tools and opportunities to succeed. Access to low-cost internet and a computer at home allows families to connect with their schools, navigate district information and services, and research educational supports for their students. In addition, a home computer links parents and caregivers to immediate resources, telehealth support, online learning and employment opportunities.
With over 40,000 students, RUSD continually seeks innovative practices to support students’ and families’ comprehensive and ever-changing needs. We acknowledge that developing trusting relationships with families is the key to student success and recognize that each staff member is responsible for eliminating disparities and guaranteeing the respectful treatment of all families.

Gabriela Alonso is the coordinator of Schools, Family and Community Partnerships at Riverside Unified School District.
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