The Other 60 Percent

Using radio to reach Spanish-speaking families

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.

raising the curtain

Aurora high school students started rehearsing a musical about an earlier time — and discovered ‘harsh truths’ about today

Ebony Nash, left, sings during a rehearsal of Ragtime at Hinkley High School. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Nine weeks ago, more than 50 theater and choir students at Aurora’s Hinkley High School came together to begin work on a musical set in turn-of-the-20th-century New York.

At first, the kids did what high school students often do — cluster into familiar cliques, or self-segregate by race. Then the students started immersing themselves in the material.

The musical, “Ragtime,” intertwines the stories of a white family, a Jewish immigrant family and an African-American couple to spotlight differences and commonalities in the American experience.

At the urging of their teachers and directors, the Hinkley students began to use the plot and characters to examine their own actions, prejudice and biases. About 92 percent of Hinkley’s more than 2,100 students are students of color, the vast majority of them Latino.

The cliques and segregation slipped away. The production began taking shape.

“Ragtime” gets its Hinkley High School debut on Thursday and will be performed again on Friday and Saturday.

Chalkbeat sat down with a group of students involved in the production as they were in final preparations to learn about what their experience had taught them. The following is a portion of that conversation, slightly condensed and rearranged for clarity:

Janelle Douglas, a 17-year-old senior who portrays a friend of one of the story’s main characters, said the first time she saw and read through Ragtime, “it was intense.” She often cries as she rehearses her solo, sung during a funeral.

DOUGLAS: “I thought, this is powerful. This is overwhelming. This is amazing.”

Pamela Arzate, 17, plays the role of Evelyn Nesbit, a real model and actress who is incorporated into the fictional story and accused of being shallow.

ARZATE: “It’s very eye-opening because you look at it and it’s just a simple musical, but if you take a step back and go to the real world, it’s the exact same thing that’s going on today.”

Hodaly Sotelo, 17, plays the role of Mother, a woman whose attitudes toward her identity as a wife and woman evolve throughout the story.

SOTELO: “It reminds me of when I was younger and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re over all that racism.’ But now, I look back and I think, what the heck? This stuff is still going on and we thought it was way over.”

Brianna Mauricio-Perez, 17, is one of two student directors.

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “It talks about all of the harsh truths that no one wants to talk about.”

DOUGLAS: “I think it’s safe to say it shows the true colors of our history.”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “Even within our cast we did have to have a talk about how we were so separated because we were at the very beginning. Everyone was in their little groups and with their friends. You just want to keep to yourself.”

DOUGLAS: “It was literally ‘Ragtime.’”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “We had a big talk with everybody. Things have gotten so much better. By the end of Act Two, we were all mixed up.”

Brenda Castellanos, 17, plays the role of Emma Goldman, drawn from a real-life political activist and anarchist.

CASTELLANOS: “Now that we’re closer, now that we’re all comfortable, we put in more effort.”

After nearly every rehearsal, teachers and directors give students a talk, urging them to immerse themselves in the feelings of their characters, relating to them if necessary through their parents, grandparents or ancestors who were immigrants, or through current events.

“What if you saw someone beaten, and bloodied and killed in front of you?” one director asked.

They also remind students of why the play should be impactful. “You have to figure out how for two-and-a-half hours you can give hope to that audience,” Marie Hayden, Hinkley’s choir director told students last week.

CASTELLANOS: “I think it it helps us. Every day, we get more into it and more into it until we actually believe it. You actually feel it — like how Janelle feels when she’s singing and she starts crying and makes everybody cry. We all feel connected.”

Students say they have different scenes that impact them the most, but they don’t hesitate to find how the scenes relate to their life despite the story being set in the first decade of the 1900s. Hayden’s class and the practice for the musical are safe places where they can discuss those parallels, they said.

Shavaun Mar, 16, is a junior who plays the main character of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a ragtime piano player who is the target of racial attacks and struggles with revenge and forgiveness.

MAR: “I feel like that is crucial that we give people those opportunities to talk because a lot of people have very valid things to say but they just don’t have a way to get it out.”

CASTELLANOS: “The shootings.”

ARZATE: “The racism. They help us discuss it because there’s so many things that are going on. Pretty much everyday there’s a tragedy going on. And so, in a way, we can use that sentiment, that emotion that we feel with the real world and convey it when we’re doing this show. We use those feelings and we try to think about it in that way. To display that emotion. To display it to everyone else. And not directly represent what’s going on today but just to give them that ‘aha’ moment, like ‘wow.’”

Ebony Nash, 17, plays the character of Sarah, an innocent girl who wants to help her boyfriend settle his problems.

NASH: “It just makes us want justice in real life because these things are still going on even though it’s not out there. It just makes us want justice for our community. This musical showed me that I need to become better within myself because I’m not perfect.”

SOTELO: “It opened my eyes a lot more for sure. This kind of just makes me realize the problems I have. It makes me realize yea, I’m having immigration issues with my father right now, but that also my friends, you know, they’re going through the same thing too. This DACA stuff or this coming out stuff. I became more accepting of what other people might be going through and how I can help.”

MAR: “The past few years, I have been in a bit of a shell. So putting myself in this situation and pushing myself to be this other person has really shown me what I’m capable of and it’s helping me break out of that shell and realize who I am as a person.”

NASH: “Basically, this is our getaway from real life because we get to come on stage and be somebody else. It also makes us want to put the story out right so people can understand. So people can feel what we want them to feel.”

CASTELLANOS: “That there’s hope after all this corruption that’s going on.”

DOUGLAS: “That even in your bad times you can still laugh, cry, dance.”

NASH: “What I want people to get from this is change. To learn how to change and learn how to forgive and learn how to come together as a community and just, like their worth.”

SOTELO: “And to be strong. To stand up for what’s right.”

ARZATE: “And it might sound weird, but I feel like they should feel a certain level of uncomfort because that means that they’re going to look at themselves while seeing the musical. Maybe they’ll go ‘I’m uncomfortable because I do that’ or ‘I have that prejudice’ or ‘I feel that certain way,’ so if they come out and they feel uncomfortable and then at the end they’re like, ‘Wow. There’s that hope for change.’ Hopefully that like…”

DOUGLAS: “… It inspires them to do better.”

ARZATE: “Like, you can do it.”

SOTELO: “It’s kind of like a water droplet. One small move can domino-effect to something bigger.”


Taking attendance

Want to make middle school admissions more fair? Stop looking at this measure, parents say

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Middle school students write their names down at a high school fair in Brooklyn.

Parents across New York City have pushed for changes in the way selective middle schools pick their students, saying the process is unfair.

Now, a group of Manhattan parents has come up with a novel solution: Stop looking at students’ attendance records.

The parent council in District 2 — where about 70 percent of middle schools admit students based on their academic records — points to research showing that students from low-income families are far more likely to miss school. Those children are at a distinct disadvantage in the competition for the district’s top middle school seats, the council argues, even though factors beyond the control of any fourth-grader — especially family homelessness — often account for poor attendance and tardiness.

“This outsized focus on attendance disproportionately impacts students who don’t have secure housing and may not have secure healthcare, and that is troubling to me,” said Eric Goldberg, a member of the community education council in District 2, which includes stretches of Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side. “There are many factors that should not impact a student’s educational opportunities — and the way the system is set up, it does.”

Eighteen of the district’s 24 middle schools are “screened,” meaning they rank applicants based on factors including test scores, grades, and interviews. Of those, all but one school also considers how often students were late or absent in fourth grade, according to the parent council.

Most of the schools assign points to each factor they consider. Some give absences 10 times more weight than science or social studies grades, the council found, while others penalize students for even a single absence or instance of tardiness.

Disadvantaged students are especially likely to miss school.

A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that homeless students are more likely than other students to be chronically absent — typically defined as missing about 10 percent of the school year.

Schools with the highest chronic absenteeism are in communities in “deep poverty,” which have the highest rates of unemployment and family involvement with the child-welfare system, according to a 2014 report by the New School at the Center for New York City Affairs.

“We can use chronic absenteeism as a good guess of all the other things kids are dealing with,” said Nicole Mader, a senior research fellow at the New School and a co-author of the report. “If these middle schools are using absenteeism to weed kids out, that means they’re going to automatically weed out those kids who have the most barriers to academic success already.”

The attendance requirement can put pressure on any family, regardless of their financial status or housing situation.

Banghee Chi, a parent of two children in District 2, said she sometimes sent her younger daughter to school with a fever when she was in fourth grade rather than have her marked absent.

Her daughter would show up to class only to be sent to the school’s health clinic — which would call Chi to pick her up. Chi was thinking ahead to middle school, when a missed day of class could hurt her chances of getting into the most sought-after schools.

“It was something I was really conscious and aware of during my child’s fourth-grade year,” she said. “I think it’s unfair.”

The education council’s resolution, which will be put to vote in December, is nonbinding because middle schools set their own admissions criteria. But a show of support from parents could lead to action from the education department, which has been prodded by integration advocates to make other changes in high school and middle school admissions.

This summer, the department announced it would end the practice of “revealed rankings,” which allowed middle schools to select only those students who listed them first or second on their applications. The city is also appointing a committee of parents, educators, and community leaders in Brooklyn’s District 15 to come up with a proposal for making that district’s middle school applications process more fair.

“We’re collaborating with communities across the city to make school admissions more equitable and inclusive, including in District 2,” said department spokesman Will Mantell in an email. The department looks forward “to further conversations about this resolution and other efforts to improve middle school admissions in District 2.”