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webapp that forms partnerships between immigrant parents and school staff by preparing them for crucial conversations

struggles of immigrant parents

Illustration of a person separated from a school by a wall of graffiti. The graffiti includes the words 'language', 'bias', and 'culture'.

Parental involvement is a significant factor in the academic success and well‑being of a child. Parent‑school communication encourages parental involvement and helps establish strong working relationships between teachers and parents to support students. Immigrant parents and teachers of their children in the United States face unique obstacles in having effective communication, such as language barriers, cultural differences, racial bias, and assumptions about home conditions.

How might we help immigrant parents communicate with schools so that they can better support their children?

building foundational knowledge

Education and culture are huge topics which we couldn’t possibly tackle without foundational knowledge. Before planning our firsthand research, we consulted the writings of relevant scholars and practitioners. We also directly conversed with a couple professors. Our research highlighted how crucial parental involvement was to their children’s academic success and well‑being, and helped us identify the major barriers of language, culture, and bias that inhibited support for immigrant students.

engaging with people

Once we had foundational knowledge of the problem space, we needed to observe how our conceptual understanding manifested in real situations. We coordinated with leaders of local communities and schools to connect with immigrant parents and school staff. They explained their frustrations and delights in interacting with people and technology in the school system. Our conversations revealed that most people desired effective partnerships, but were held back by difficulty in coordinating schedules and aligning priorities.

synthesizing research data

illustrations of a night sky representing data, stars in a night sky representing insights, and stars connected into constellations in a night sky representing design principles

As mentioned before, education and culture are huge topics. There was no way we could address every bit of data we had collected. To facilitate in determining appropriate focus and scope for our project, we did a lot of affinity diagramming to synthesize our data into key insights. These insights informed design principles for our solution.

key insights

A PDF of our report is available below. Text by the team, visual design by Alice.

generating ideas

Now that we understood the problem space and identified markers of a good solution, we could start thinking up how we could foster change. We did about a dozen ideation activities, some with the help of colleagues outside the team.

inspirational activities

idea generation and refinement

fleshing out promising concepts

Storyboard about a parent using a playbook to determine how to communicate with their child's teacher about bullying. Critique and comments from colleagues are on the right.
Illustration by Mo.

We narrowed down our ideas to three promising concepts, and presented them through storyboards and system diagrams to external colleagues. They helped us begin to identify and address possible roadblocks that each solution might have to deal with. We eventually decided to pursue the concept of a negotiable communication playbook which helps parents navigate a school system. This direction seemed to best leverage our research about culture.

Slides describing our initial concepts are available below. Diagrams by Alice. Storyboards by Mo. Text and drawings by me.

developing a solution

The concept of a negotiable communication playbook sounded nice, but there were many uncertainties about how it would work:

We evaluated prototypes alongside immigrant parents and school staff, hoping to create a structured process for effective communication. Our prototypes revealed that we held an overly pessimistic view of the abilities of school staff and resources to address the issues of immigrant parents. Instead of trying to micromanage conversations, we shifted our focus to getting them started off on the right foot.

foundational exploration

prototypes

getting the conversation started

A photo of a person looking at their phone, labeled 'Guided reflection'. A photo of a teacher, interpreter, and parent in a classroom having a conversation around a table with a laptop, labeled 'Effective conversation'. A photo of a parent at a bus stop making a call, labeled 'Confident action'.

Our focus on starting conversations led us to design Springboard. Springboard is a webapp that prepares immigrant parents for effective conversations with school staff, and assists in sustaining plans of action the conversations produce.

Before meeting with school staff, Springboard prompts parents to identify their goals, questions, and availability. These reveal the parent’s unique needs, allowing school staff to develop plans of action alongside the parent in response. Springboard provides a digital platform for parents and school staff to record and follow these plans of action. In many cases, as the parent builds familiarity with the school system and staff, Springboard becomes unneeded.

features

deliverables

reflection

This project was very prone to scope creep. Public education is a gigantic machine that always could use massive overhaul. We begrudgingly refrained from redesigning how schools operated, knowing from our research that many policies would stand in the way of adoption. If we had 5 years, we might have been able to iterate on an entire communication system. Since we only had 5 months, we opted to just make sure that everyone could participate in the system in the first place.

endsign
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