Dr. Ryan Barber, Assistant Superintendent, Waynesboro Public Schools
By: Candace Bazile | Volatia - What does it look like to encourage and support diversity, equity, and inclusion in public schools? Today, those words are batted around as if saying them creates cultural harmony but Waynesboro Public Schools (WPS) in Waynesboro, VA is getting it right in the everyday matters of student life through a comprehensive, hands-on, language access program powered by Volatia Language Network Inc. (Volatia).
Annually WPS creates equity and inclusion for 250 limited English Proficient (LEP) students and their families in small-town Waynesboro (Pop. 22,828), which is known for its strong sense of family and community. The City of Waynesboro is centrally located in the eastern portion of Virginia's scenic and historic Shenandoah Valley, 90 miles northwest of Richmond.
Before Volatia designed and implemented a responsive language access program to suit their needs, WPS had one full-time language access coordinator tasked with contacting LEP parents, serving as an interpreter, translator, and event coordinator, on-site and over the phone. They weren't as inclusive because they didn't have the personnel in place to support the coordinator’s efforts.
Changing their understanding of the benefit of a comprehensive and measurable language access program has been a primary part of the work Volatia has done with WPS. Volatia helps WPS identify all the aspects of equity and inclusion that need to be addressed so that their diversity initiative reaches LEP students and families through hands-on, equity and inclusion-building practices that are within budget.
“My experience with Volatia from our first conversation to exploring program options, to the renewal of our program for the second year, has been nothing but positive,” said Dr. Ryan Barber, Waynesboro Public Schools Assistant Superintendent.
“Volatia understands what we need. I have a budget that I'm working with and they do everything possible to make sure that we're on target, budget-wise. Elizabeth Hord, Volatia’s Director of Operations, has been tremendous to work with. She is very willing to reach out and problem solve and come up with solutions so that we can best meet the needs of our students.”
Keeping students and families at the forefront of the work that WPS is doing as a school division is a priority. While diversity programming is not always immediately associated with foreign language interpretation and translation services in American culture, having a fully-staffed, comprehensive language access program helps WPS achieve greater diversity, equity, and inclusion among students. Through their language access program, they are removing language barriers and increasing connections and touchpoints for all immigrants in the surrounding Waynesboro community.
WPS distributes clear school messaging in real-time about school division updates, curriculum insights, and emergency alerts. As an information channel, they readily interact with a broad range of diverse cultures and lifestyles that are present in Waynesboro.
“Our job as a school division is to serve all our students, not just the students who speak English,” Barber continued. “Volatia has allowed us to connect in a meaningful, efficient, user-friendly way with our LEP families so that we can emphasize accuracy. And so, when we are able to make those connections, we build relationships that turn into partnerships that create outcomes for kids that we want.”
WPS partners with Volatia to translate curriculum outlines, lesson plans, and student assignments from teachers. They also translate student report cards, and notices concerning student behavior in the classroom. Teachers reach out to LEP families through interpreters, in-person, over the phone, and using video remote services.
Using Volatia’s network of over 18,000 on-demand interpreters and translators, WPS serves an LEP community of Spanish speakers, Vietnamese speakers, and speakers of some African tribal languages to deepen diversity, equity, and inclusion. They level the playing field for all students by sharing the same information with everyone and supporting all students and families equally.
Volatia also delivers localized language interpretation and translation to industry-specific business translation services that are in high demand in hospital systems, public school systems, and health and human services agencies across the United States.
Through language access, WPS is creating equity in the classroom by ensuring that all students understand the curriculum and have access to after-school resources regardless of their cultural background, experiences, and their native language.
“If someone said to me, OK, you can’t use Volatia anymore I'd be scrambling to figure out how I was going to reach all of the students who are in our community,” said Barber. “I really believe that we have a great community that's diverse and vibrant, and it's not OK if we don’t reach all of the kids.”
WPS also practices diversity by embracing other cultures. “We’ve hosted special programming, employing our language access program, to kick off events such as our recent local library open house where our LEP family liaison was at the library to introduce the families to sections of the library that have books that were written in Spanish. She helped those families sign up for library cards, and we had several families who came out to that event.”
Back to School Bash: De-stressing the start of the school year in Waynesboro (Image from Augusta Free Press)
WPS makes interpreters available at school-based and community-based events to increase inclusiveness community-wide. Students can come to back-to-school bashes or ESL family nights with confidence that they can fully participate, not just be in attendance.
Diversity programming at WPS touches on social concerns as well. Through their Volatia-supported diversity, equity, and inclusion solution, WPS examines why certain groups of students get suspended from school more often. “We're having those hard discussions because what we need to do is create outcomes that account for the differences in perspective that people have. Just because my perspective is what it is, due to the experiences I've had, doesn't mean that the perspectives of our LEP students and families are not acceptable because they are different, so I can listen and learn.”
WPS uses in-person and on-demand interpretation and translation services to drive diversity-focused, academic excellence.