September 15th marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Every year, the celebration runs through October 15th and highlights the contributions Hispanics and Latinos have made to American culture and society. If your school is like many throughout the country, you’ve seen an increase in recent years in not just enrollment of hispanic students, but enrollment of students from a wide range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
Diversity is a priority in nearly every school. By creating a diverse and culturally-accepting school environment, you can help your students grow into more socially-responsible adults. You can also create a stronger community by welcoming and embracing your ethnic students and parents.
Creating a multicultural environment starts at the top, with you and your administrative team. Your communications and messaging establish the standard that your school is welcoming of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
If that’s your goal, then that philosophy should be reflected on your school website. As we’ve written about in many blog posts, your website is your primary channel of communication with your parents, students, teachers, prospective students, and other members of your community. If diversity is important to you, then that should be evident on your website.
When you set up your school website, there are so many things that you have to account for. Does it function properly? Are all the teachers and groups represented? Is it easy for people to find information?
In the midst of all those objectives, it can be easy to miss whether or not the website appeals to your multicultural community members. Of all the shortcomings of many schools' website design, failing to meet the needs of multicultural audiences may not even be on their radar. Yet.
Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to make your website more appealing to all of your parents, students, and teachers, no matter their ethnicity or background.
1. Respect first languages other than English.
Your multicultural students may be proficient in English because they’ve been in America since they were children. However, that may not be the case with their parents. Many immigrant parents stick with their native language and only learn fragments of English out of necessity.
Unfortunately, that language barrier can prevent them from being as engaged as you or they may wish. If they come to a website that is only in English, they might be too intimidated to get the information they need.
Obviously, you can’t have dozens of different languages on your website. What you can do, though, is include a translation plug-in to translate the site’s content into any language. Google offers a plug-in that performs this very function.
Appropriately enough, it’s called Google Translate. Simply go to the Google Translate page and follow the simple three-step process. When you’re done, you’ll have a nice tool on your website that allows anyone to access any page, no matter what language they speak.
2. Highlight your multicultural celebrations, events, and activities.
If diversity and cultural-acceptance are a part of your school’s DNA and value system, then you should make that point clear on your website. Don’t hesitate to show photos from your events that celebrate different heritages and cultures. Be sure to include pictures of all your students, showing just how diverse your population is.
Even if your student population isn’t as diverse as you might like, students can still benefit from learning about and celebrating other cultures. Have a student write an article describing a cultural event. Ask another student to take pictures. Then turn that content into a blog post that you can highlight on the front page of your website.
By showing your commitment to diversity and multiculturalism, you’ll create a more welcoming environment for prospective students and families of ethnic backgrounds.
3. Use a variety of outreach channels to ethnic parents.
As mentioned earlier, no matter how multicultural you make your website, some parents may not take advantage of it. There could be a language barrier that presents a challenge. Or parents may play a more limited role in education in their home country. They may not know how involved they should be.
Don’t hesitate to go offline and make proactive outreach attempts to these parents. Let them know that they are welcome to contact you and your team with questions. Educate them on how they can use the website, social media, and email to get important information. Provide them with access to translation tools - like Google Translate - so they can stay engaged with their child’s educational progress.
The most important thing is that your commitment to diversity and multiculturalism can’t just be a talking point. Make a proactive effort to infuse multiculturalism into your school’s day-to-day activities. And work to make sure your communications reflect that commitment with a solid, well-designed website at the core. If you do that, you’ll create a more welcoming atmosphere for everyone in your school’s community.
Cultural Diversity Needs to Last Longer than One Month
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him @jay4schools.