Peel board reaches out to community, world with websites in 25 languages
First school system in North America to offer information parents want most - in their own language
Parents and others with a first language that is not English will soon be able to get the information they need to register for school, understand the Ontario school system, and help their child with reading and writing thanks to 25 new websites - each in one of the major languages of Peel. The sites, which launch starting Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006, at the new www.peelschools.org, are the most extensive website effort in North America that reaches out to the community in other languages.
The new sites - part of the redesign of the board's award-winning website - offer 35 documents to visitors from Peel and around the world. The content reflects some of the most-requested information by parents, schools and community agencies. Almost 1,000 web pages reflecting 400,000 words have been translated into the top 25 languages of Peel parents including Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi and Spanish. Languages were selected based on the languages spoken by Peel students. Documents will also be available in hard copy at schools to help parents who cannot easily access the Internet.
Notes Brian Woodland, director of communications for the Peel board, "This has been an enormously complex project, but if we truly believe in reaching our diverse communities we have to make the investment of time and resources to deliver on that commitment. Of course, no matter how careful we have been, or how much verification has been done, we are certain to have to make changes and corrections to the sites as they evolve. But we know our communities are appreciative of our efforts to reach them in their own language and will welcome access to this new content."
Says Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association in Rockville, Maryland, "We work with school districts across the continent, and while we have seen some leading districts translate website information into two or three languages, to our knowledge the Peel board's ability to provide content in 25 home languages represents a North American first. Peel is seen as a leader in reaching out to diverse communities and this is another great example of that work. This will certainly set a new standard."
The language sites are each reached with a distinct site address—such as www.peelschools.org/punjabi—and match the navigation, and the look and feel of the main site. Each site section on peelschools.org is included in the custom navigation for the language sites, and there is content for each of the sections, such as Parents Boost Learning or Meet Your trustee. Just as with peelschools.org, over time, and based on feedback from the communities, additional content will be added to the sites each month. "My parents would find a website with school information very useful," says Jasmine Mundi, grade 8 student at Roberta Bondar Public School in Brampton. "My parents want to be involved in my education, but because they speak another language they would be more comfortable reading in their own language. I try to explain as much as possible, but providing information in their first language would be very helpful."
Notes Janet McDougald, chair of the Peel board, "As an organization we are proud of our focus on student success—and for students to be successful we need parents as real partners in education. The new peelschools.org is an amazing resource for all Peel parents—I know I have used it this summer and found the new features to be very helpful—and the addition of the language sites is a major step in reaching our communities."
Much of the cost of translation was funded through special parent involvement funding from the Ministry of Education. The funds, intended to help reach out to parents who find school involvement more challenging, also supported the production of significant new resources for school councils, supported regional meetings of parents and councils, and funded parent-outreach work at over half of Peel schools. Notes Jim Grieve, director of education, "As a board, we have an organizational commitment to equity. We want to make sure we reach all of our parents—including those for whom English is not a first language. This new finding was key for us to go to the next level on parent involvement. Without it we would not have been able to launch these language sites."
The Peel District School Board is one of the fastest growing and most diverse school districts in North America. Each year, the board grows by 3,000 to 5,000 new students. Highlights Varsha Naik, the board's community liaison co-ordinator, "At least one out of every two new students coming to our schools has a first language other than English. For their parents—many of whom are new to this country and to the Ontario school system—the lack of access to information in their own language is an absolute barrier to being a full and active part of their child's school experience. As someone who has worked in this community, I know how valuable parents and our agency partners will find these new sites."
To make all parents and community members aware of the re-design of the site, ads will run in the major daily newspapers in the GTA. Specifically for the new language sites, ads will appear in over 30 ethnic newspapers. In ethnic newspapers, the ads will appear in the language of that paper and will highlight the specific site for the language of that community. The translated ads will be provided to community agencies in Peel to include in newsletters. As well, website flyers will go home with each student the first week of school.
The new language sites are the second phase of a major recast of www.peelschools.org. The first phase included new easy-to-use drop-down menus and a powerful search engine, plus a new look and feel to meet the Peel board's graphic standard. Next phases include the launch of new sections for alternative education and the Peel board's hubs and readiness centres. Most of the work on the site was done in-house by the Communications team working in partnership with the Learning Technology Support Services department. The site was designed by Despina Zanganas from Chromatica Design + Communications, and developed with the assistance of Randall Craig of Pinetree Advisors who worked on the original site in 1999.
The Peel District School Board serves more than 145,000 students in kindergarten to the end of secondary school. Operating 226 schools in the municipalities of Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga, the Peel board is the largest employer in Peel. For more information, visit the board's website at www.peelschools.org.
The National School Public Relations Association, founded in 1935, has 2,000 members and provides school communication research, training and services to school leaders throughout North America. NSPRA's mission is to advance education through responsible communication. For more information, visit their website at www.nspra.org.
Chromatica Design specializes in delivering innovative and creative design solutions. Our work impacts audiences, and has been used at Peel both on the web and in print. For more information, visit www.chromatica.ca.
Pinetree Advisors helps organizations respond to complex challenges, by aligning people and process with the organization's overall goals. Pinetree Advisors and Randall Craig have helped guide Peel's web strategy since 1997. For more information, visit www.ptadvisors.com.