Yakima School District and Weglot
“Somos Uno”: Through Multilingual Websites, the Yakima School District Continues to Improve Language Access and Inclusivity for Its School Community
Located primarily within the boundaries of the city of Yakima, Washington, the Yakima School District (YSD) serves a diverse population of nearly 16,000 students across 23 schools, with their lead demographic being families of poverty.
With the district’s high number of Spanish-speaking families, Kirsten Fitterer, Yakima’s chief communications officer, wanted the school communities to have an authentic experience, no matter the touchpoint.
The Challenge — Creating an inclusive and authentic experience
“It was important that all of our students and families see themselves represented,” Fitterer said. “At the same time, we also wanted to evolve to become a bicultural, bilingual, and biliterate entity — something we hoped could impact Spanish and English speakers alike.”
At a Glance
Yakima School District (YSD) is the 20th-largest district in the state of Washington, the fourth-largest in Eastern Washington, and the second-largest district with a Latino majority in the state.
YSD was searching for a way to provide culturally-sensitive content through their websites. And with their “Spanish-first” mentality, they wanted to be able to provide website content in languages that match the household demographics of the families they serve.
Fitterer wanted to create a multilingual experience for her community and knew that Finalsite would be able to go beyond just translation services and provide contextual changes in various languages too. So, together, they worked toward a solution. The goal was to find a solution that she and her small-but-mighty communications team could easily manage, but still offer the authenticity of the specific dialects present in the school.
"It was important that our students and families see themselves represented."
CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER
The Solution — Partnering with experts
Fitterer and the Finalsite team immediately got to work and began evaluating Weglot, Finalsite’s preferred partner for enhanced language translation. With support for over 100 languages, Weglot could be installed on YSD’s district and individual school websites, and depending on the languages needing to be translated, the solution would be able to instinctively detect and translate any page’s content.
Beyond just creating translations on the web, Yakima was also able to create unique subdomains on their site per language. This makes a web experience all the more inclusive because website visitors can bookmark the exact website URL and immediately see the web content in their language, dialect, and context. Even the district logo changes per language.
The Result — Increased access and cultural pride
Partnering with Finalsite and implementing Weglot helped Yakima successfully translate their main district site into as many languages that were represented in their district. For Yakima, these were languages such as: Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Arabic, and Samoan. This solution also made it possible for each of the district’s 23 school websites to be translated into those languages as well. And, as Weglot allows for manual overrides and edits to their translations, one of Fitterer’s staff members, a Spanish speaker, is able to log in and easily make changes to the content on the Spanish sites as needed — an important feature since 30.3% of their students are English language learners.
The solution has also been an asset as YSD prepared, as many Washington districts have, to meet the parameters for a new bill that has been passed with regard to language access. The bill, which was signed into law on October 1, 2022, aims to reduce the education opportunity gaps created by language barriers by increasing communication between school staff and families.
The law will require schools to include families, interpreters, and school personnel in the development of a language access plan, and designate a language access liaison to facilitate district compliance with state and federal laws related to family engagement—Fitterer is the designee for Yakima School District — and additional obligations. And now, Yakima School District has a language access department, which was foundational to actualizing the vision of creating an inclusive community.
In addition to being able to meet its goals around language access, the Yakima School District’s Communications Team won a 2022 “Best in Category” award from the Washington School Public Relations Association for the district’s website at the organization’s annual school PR awards.
Beyond the recognition — and the help in preparing for the state’s new language legislation — the ease and efficiency of Weglot translation solutions also cleanly fits into one of YSD’s most important goals: increasing access and instilling pride in the multiculturalism of its district. “We’re evolving to leading with Spanish — rather than leading in English and then translating to Spanish,” Fitterer said.
One example of this is the District’s tagline this year: “Somos uno,” or “We are one.” “I’ve found that our staff — regardless of their primary language — is saying “somos uno,” not the English translation. “It’s a little thing, but it’s heartwarming and shows that we’re paying attention to the native language and culture of our students and families, and working to make sure those languages and cultures stay in the forefront.”
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