February 27, 2023

Taft Elementary School Utilizes Pocketalk to Aid Immigrant and Refugee Students

The city of Boise, Idaho, has a long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. In 2019, the city became a “welcoming city,” certified by Welcoming America, and committed itself to fostering a supportive community for these populations. This is especially apparent at Taft Elementary School, which has a majority of refugee and immigrant students. Almost half of the student population, around 40%, are Multilingual Learners (MLL).

With a significant amount of MLL students, Taft Elementary School needed translation support not only in the classroom, but also in the nurse’s office, with supervisors at recess, at the front desk and with MLL parents during school events. Previously, the school tried multiple translation solutions, but none of them had the capabilities, like portability, to be used in the variety of ways that the school needed. Tim Lowe, Principal of Taft Elementary School, heard about Pocketalk from a business partner that he meets with regularly to discuss and solve complex problems. He decided to give it a shot.

Pocketalk had an immediate impact at the school. The first day using their new Pocketalk devices, a Ukrainian family visited the school with their child, the newest student at Taft Elementary School. The family arrived with an interpreter from the resettlement agency, but Principal Lowe wanted to give Pocketalk a try. Lowe introduced himself to the family and welcomed them to the school and Boise, speaking into his Pocketalk.

“The interpreter’s eyes opened widely and the family let out a short giggle. I think they were dumbfounded that this device worked, and relieved to hear their own language so far from their home country,” explained Lowe.

Lowe proceeded to show the family around the school, and the rest of the 30-minute meeting was conducted using Pocketalk. Many people consider Pocketalk a student tool, or something that is used solely during classroom instruction. However, for Taft Elementary School, the device is primarily used to communicate with MLL families and to create relationships with students. For many immigrants and refugees, bringing their child to a new school is one of the first interactions they have with their community. Principal Lowe and Taft Elementary School understand how critical it is to ensure these families feel welcomed and understood, and that they feel confident that their child will be supported during their time at the school. In fact, the Ukrainian family now routinely visits the school, considering it almost a second home.

After seeing the success of the devices during a parent night at Taft Elementary, a Boise district administrator made sure every department had their own Pocketalk and there was one for each school in the district. Now, the devices are seen across the school, from the front office to the school nurse. The primary use of Pocketalk continues to be family interactions, welcoming new families to the school, and building relationships between staff and students.

Parent involvement is key to student success. Students only have a limited amount of time with faculty each day, as the other half is typically spent at home with their families. If parents can understand how their child is doing in school and what is expected of them, they can better support their child’s education at home. Pocketalk helps teachers and parents communicate and be on the same page, so they can work together to support their child’s education and growth.