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School District's TV Talk Show Increases Parent Involvement

Involving parents in their children's education can prove difficult, especially when those parents speak a language other than English. In the Houston (Texas) Independent School District, assistant superintendent Jaime de la Isla found an innovative approach designed to reach Spanish-speaking as well as English-speaking parents. The school district airs a live interactive talk show -- Parents' Voices, or Voces de los Padres -- in which parents participate.

The interactive television show Voces de los Padres, or Parents' Voices, puts Houston parents front and center, talking about the subject that concerns them most: their children. On the talk show, produced by the Houston Independent School District, parents focus on critical issues in their children's education. Preparing for college, safe schools and safe streets, health education and fitness, dual language programs, school choice, and the important role of fathers were among the themes of previously aired editions of Parents' Voices.

Voces de los Padres is a one-hour talk show aired live from the HISD television studio. Luisa Amaral-Smith, a professional actor, hosts the program, which features three expert guest panelists and an audience of 12 to 15 parents who address questions or comments to the panelists. Parents watching the show can participate in a call-in segment.

The program is the brainchild of Jaime de la Isla, assistant superintendent for student engagement and charter school initiatives in the HISD. The school district "operates from a core ideology that includes our strategic intent 'to earn so much respect from the citizens of Houston that HISD becomes their K-12 system of choice' and a set of core values that defines who we are," De la Isla told Education World. "Among our five core values is Parents as Partners. Based on this organizational foundation, our recognition of parents as valued partners in the educational process, and my long-standing relationship with our media services television department, I proposed the creation of a new, interactive TV show designed for parents." De la Isla is the executive producer of the show.

Last year, 11 episodes of the show were aired in English, and five were in Spanish. The first show of the current season was broadcast in Spanish on September 19. Its topic was Si Se Puede Ir a la Universidad, or "You Can Go to College." The show airs the first and third Wednesdays of the month.


In the HISD, 54 percent of students are Hispanic. De la Isla says the greatest response last year came from Houston's Spanish-speaking community to shows in Spanish on topics such as immigration, bilingual education, and reading programs. "We have had several focus group meetings with parents, parent representatives, and parent educators who have offered their choice of topics," De la Isla said.

De la Isla noted that the HISD also involves parents in other aspects of planning the show. "At the end of the 2000-01 season, we met with a group of parents who had either viewed the show at home or participated as members of the studio audience. There was a strong consensus of support for maintaining the show's format. We did little to vary the show's format for this year other than addressing [different] topics of interest.

"We are considering, however, going to some of our schools to videotape the show on campus," De la Isla continued. "That suggestion has been well received by parents and school administrators."

"I like that HISD is reaching out to our Hispanic parents," one parent said in Spanish. "We are made to feel comfortable in our own language, and [the show] talks about things important to us as parents."


Luisa Amaral-Smith, who hosts the show, plays a vital role. In addition to acting, singing, and dancing -- she is a member of Actors' Equity -- she works as a children's entertainer and teaches acting/stage movement and musical theater to young people.

Amaral-Smith told Education World how she approaches her work. "First, I attend production meetings with the staff to discuss goals and possible panel members before each program," she said. "Then, I research the subject and select support materials to have with me such as newspaper clippings, magazine articles, Internet info, and quotes."

She usually meets with panelists before the show to "get a better understanding of their unique perspectives and let them know the focus for the program. Basically, I continue to research, study, and prepare for the program up to the moment we go on the air."

Most parent panelists are nervous about appearing on TV, and Amaral-Smith works to relax them and let them know their individual contributions are, as she said, "extremely worthwhile. I need them to feel comfortable so that the dialogue will be natural and productive. I guide the conversation and keep it focused on the topic to keep the energy and rhythm exciting and interesting to viewers."


Asked how many watch the show, De la Isla responded, "Unfortunately, we're unable to assess that information. However, I know from anecdotal comments from staff and parents that we're building the show's viewership."

In addition, the show appears to be building good will in the HISD community. "It is profoundly important to recognize that the success of schools and school districts is strongly correlated with their relationship with their constituent parents and community," De la Isla said. "Parents are partners in the educational enterprise. Through such initiatives as Voces de los Padres and others, the Houston Independent School District is successfully rebuilding the 'public' trust in public education."

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
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