IBM to Provide Arkansas Schools With Innovative Technology to Boost Literacy for Hispanic Children and Families
Children of select public schools and all charter schools in Arkansas, and their parents will now have access to new translation technology from IBM (NYSE: IBM) that will help bridge the communication gap for the growing numbers of Spanish-speaking families and English-speaking teachers.
IBM awarded a grant valued at nearly $1.4 million to the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions for IBM’s ˇTradúceloAhora! (Translate Now!) program, software that translates e-mail messages and Web pages bi-directionally (English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English) automatically.
The college’s Charter School Resource Center will make the technology available to at least 72 schools across the state. The goal of the technology is to enable parents who speak only Spanish and teachers who speak only English to communicate more easily so that the parents can remain involved in their children’s progress, which is critical to educational success.
Training sessions designed to help teachers and schools access and use the software will be held at locations across the state. The schools selected to have access to ˇTradúceloAhora! will be notified by the University of Arkansas when the sessions are set. The schools chosen include all the charter schools in the state, all the small, rural districts to which the Arkansas School for Math and Science already provides technological and curriculum support, and the Springdale School District because it has the largest Hispanic student population in the state.
According to recent U.S. Census data, Arkansas had one of the country’s fastest growing Hispanic populations in the past six years with an increase of 59 percent from 2000 to 2006. According to the Arkansas Department of Education, 37,477 students, or 8 percent of all students in Arkansas, are Hispanic. In Northwest Arkansas, the Springdale School District has a 39 percent Hispanic enrollment in the public school system.
“Providing technology that helps eliminate the barrier between English and Spanish can allow for successful communication that can play a major role in the healthy development of every member of the Hispanic family,” said Chris Holmes, IBM senior state executive for Arkansas. “The College of Education and Health Professions Arkansas Charter School Resource Center is giving parents of Hispanic children across the state a way to stay connected to the school, their child’s progress and the community.”
“We are grateful to IBM for making this gift to the University of Arkansas,” said Reed Greenwood, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions. “It will help strengthen our college’s outreach efforts across the state by providing a practical and much-needed resource for our schools, Spanish-speaking English Language Learner students and their families.”
The easy-to-use technology provides a pathway to help Hispanic families facilitate their interaction with the community at large. In practice, Spanish-speaking parents can use ˇTradúceloAhora! to e-mail their child’s teacher in their own language. In the classroom, Spanish-speaking students can use the translation capability on Web pages to keep up with classroom curricula while they learn English.
A recent report by the Springdale School District suggests that becoming fluent in English takes too long and that English Language Learner students are “stalling out” when they reach mid-level fluency. Access to a program that could translate Web sites and other communications may aid in the language learning process.
“Anything like this that builds a bridge between parents and educators will be beneficial to the community. We need to create more ideas like this and promote them to the community,” said Al Lopez, school/community liaison for the Springdale School District and advocate for bilingual issues and education in northwest Arkansas. “It will be good for everybody. We have to team up and not let language be the barrier and programs like this will help.”
Public charter schools are public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The charter establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served and methods of assessment. Charters are granted for a period of up to 5 years. At the end of the term, the state Board of Education may renew the school’s contract. According to the Arkansas Department of Education, there currently are 20 public charter schools operating in Arkansas.
ˇTradúceloAhora! is based on IBM’s WebSphere translation technology. The grant program is in its fourth year and most recently 200 schools and nonprofit organizations received access to this technology, bringing to 350 the number of organizations participating in the program in the United States and Latin America.
Since 1994, IBM has been a leader in elementary and secondary school reform. Reinventing Education, IBM’s flagship program with an investment of $75 million worldwide, has led to the development of a series of high-impact technology tools and more importantly, introduced technology into school district operations in an effective manner with resulting improvements in student achievement.
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