Demographic shifts require changes in school communication

In North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools (GCS), research shows that African-American and white parents are more likely to access the district’s website and cable television channel than Hispanic/Latino parents are.

Paid for by business partners, GCS’ research also shows that while almost 90 percent of parents and 80 percent of community residents have access to the internet, only half of Hispanic/Latino parents have it—and fewer than 20 percent have visited the district’s website.

For Hispanic/Latino families, school employees and word of mouth (including their children) represent their preferred information sources, followed by the district’s mass notification system. On the other hand, African-American parents are more likely to watch the district’s cable channel, GCSTV-2, than white or Hispanic/Latino parents.

When trust is an issue—and social theory contends that trust is usually an issue when individuals from different ethnic, racial, and cultural groups communicate and interact with one another—non-verbal cues such as facial expression, gestures, tone of voice, emotion, and body language become even more important.

The communication preferences for different ethnic and racial groups might look completely different for students rather than parents, however.

A 2007 study sponsored by the National Research Center for College and University Admissions regarding the electronic communication expectations for prospective Hispanic and Latino college students showed strong similarities between this group and white students.

Both groups want to learn more about financial aid and admissions, and both are interested in downloading podcasts. Hispanic/Latino students, however, are more open to participating in online chats, viewing video casts, and receiving recruiting calls and text messages.

Of greatest significance for school communicators, however, is the difference in parental involvement.

According to the study, only 48 percent of Hispanic/Latino parents assisted their children in the college admissions and financial aid process, compared with 65 percent of white students.

The difference in engagement isn’t explained by parental values regarding advanced education, because studies show about 95 percent of Hispanic/Latino families expect their children to attend college.

Instead, the research points to an awareness, information, and experience gap—something that can be targeted by smart school counselors and communicators.

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