Psychotherapist Frank Clavijo gestured as he spoke about the sometimes-dangerous dynamics of teen dating from a small second-floor radio studio not far from Mile High Stadium. Often, he explained in Spanish, adolescent girls don’t realize they are being emotionally abused by a boyfriend’s cutting comments: “You’re stupid, you’re ugly, you’re fat.”

Dr. Frank Clavijo (in blue) speaks on Educa about teen dating.

While Clavijo, a native of Peru, spoke into the fat black microphone, a Facebook comment appeared from listener Martha Porras. The mother of daughters, she thanked the show for tackling the topic, one she’d proposed a few months before. It was a small moment of affirmation for the architects of Educa Radio, a Spanish-language radio program created by Denver Public Schools to reach Spanish-speaking parents.

“It’s really been humbling to hear back from parents,” said Educa host Salvador Carrera, director of the district’s Multicultural Outreach Office. “We get lots of thank yous.”

Launched in 2009, and reformatted in 2011, the hour-long program features experts like Clavijo who talk about topics such as health, immigration, English-language acquisition, and student services. There are also segments featuring profiles of DPS schools that have both large Hispanic populations and high academic achievement.

Educa Radio broadcasts live shows on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 9 a.m. on 1090 AM and repeat shows at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays on 96.5 and 92.1 FM. Starting in August, the show will add repeat Educa broadcasts at 9 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays on 1090 AM.

Using a popular medium

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 8.28.43 AMDPS officials decided to launch the show as part of an effort to connect with Spanish-speaking parents, a population underserved by district outreach efforts at the time. According to market research, Latinos listen to the radio around eight hours a day, much more than non-Latinos, said Carrera.  In addition, about 32,000 DPS students, or 39 percent, speak Spanish.

On average, Educa attracts more than 15,000 unique listeners each week. Many of those are mothers in the 28-45 age range, said Jorge Cisneros, the show’s producer.

“In Latino society, mom is the model for the family,” he said.

By reaching mothers, as well as some fathers, district leaders hope to help parents become advocates for their children, learn about school district resources, and gain the tools to navigate American life.

“The value is providing the information in a medium they’re already comfortable with,” said Bridget Beatty, coordinator of health strategies for Denver Public Schools.

Plus, she said it removes many of the barriers — lack of time, transportation or child care — that make other informational forums impractical.

Salvador Carrera, who goes by "Chava" as host of Educa Radio.
Salvador Carrera, who goes by “Chava” as host of Educa Radio. <em>Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools</em>.

Carrera said few school districts offer Spanish-language radio programming to families. He noted that Alex Sánchez, who was director of the multicultural outreach office when Educa began, now runs a similar radio program for the Austin Independent School District. In addition, leaders of Denver’s Educa have been advising administrators from Philadelphia’s school district as they attempt to start a Spanish-language radio show.

The district pays about $40,000 a year to air the show, but Carrera said that is only a fraction of its true costs in terms of air time and other expenses. Entravision, the Spanish-language media company that hosts the show, gives DPS a good deal, he said. Without that help, the show would cost about $250,000 a year. That number will rise to $350,000 in August when Educa starts its six-day-a-week schedule.

Promoting health

As Clavijo sat in the Educa studio on a recent Tuesday morning, he helped map out the messy world of teenage dating, particularly the scary parts where violence and manipulation take hold. Teenage girls are especially susceptible, he told listeners. While 75 percent of abusers are male in adult relationships, the proportion rises to 95 percent in adolescent relationships.

Sometimes, Clavijo said, abuse stems from domestic violence or other troubles teens witness in their parents’ relationships, and then mirror in their own.

“The generational cycle of abuse can and must be broken,” he said.

Clavijo’s segment on teen dating is just one of many Educa shows that fall into the health and wellness category. One-third or more of its programming revolve around such issues.

“That’s been very intentional,” said Beatty. “It didn’t start out that way.”

Through focus groups and other forms of feedback, Spanish-speaking families have expressed strong interest in health topics. There have been shows on suicide prevention, bullying, drug abuse, health insurance options, school breakfast offerings, underage drinking, mental health and the district’s publicly available fitness centers.

The health emphasis also aligns with DPS Health Agenda 2015, a plan that came out in 2010 outlining eight key health goals, including implementing a culturally sensitive health promotion campaign for families.

To go along with Educa Radio, as well the district’s quarterly Spanish-language newspaper, Periódico Educa, the district created a health and wellness Spanish phone line in 2011. The concept was based on research that Spanish-speaking families were more likely to have cell phones than computers, thus making a phone line more useful than a web site. Parents who call the line can leave messages to ask health-related questions, enroll in health workshops or learn more about joining school wellness teams. Beatty said every call is returned.

Educa’s impact

While there are thousands of listeners who tune into Educa each week, those involved in the show say it can be hard to measure its impact. While it’s aimed at DPS parents, parents from other school districts can and do listen to the show. In fact, said Carrera, some parents from neighboring districts call in to lament that their districts don’t have similar programs.

Often, the day-to-day impacts of the show come in the form of calls, posts on the show’s Facebook page, or comments from Spanish-speaking parents who have begun using a district resource that they learned about on the program. For example, after an Educa campaign to raise awareness about the district’s “Sound Body, Sound Mind” fitness centers, which are open to the public for a small fee, Beatty said there was an increase in enrollment among Spanish-speakers.

Henrietta Pazos, mental health and assessment services support specialist with DPS, has appeared on Educa Radio a number of times and says a couple parent phone calls have stuck with her. One was from a mother who sought out services for her child after listening to a show about suicide prevention. Another thanked her for a show on the rarely addressed issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth.

“If we were to pull the show off the air, you would hear the public discontent,” said Carrera.