As Census 9/20 deadline approaches, GCS reminds families that everyone counts
In a year filled with momentous issues — a global pandemic, nationwide protests demanding social justice, a presidential election — another crucial event is taking place, one that will impact Americans for the next decade: the 2020 U.S. Census count.
The original deadline for submitting Census information was Oct. 31, but the Census Bureau announced in early August that it was moving up the cutoff date to Sept. 30. That gives Guilford County Schools just a few weeks to make every voice count in Guilford County.
District employees are still working hard to get families registered by going door-to-door in neighborhoods with lower-than-average participation numbers. They’re also helping families fill out the form digitally when they come to campuses to pick up packets for children in their families.
“We want to make one last effort to make sure that we’ve reached out to the areas that we're tracking at a lower rate than our other areas,” said Dr. Denise Patterson, interim chief student services officer. “We have to be sure that all voices are heard, because it's really going to impact what happens with education, social and emotional (programs), even highways.
“Everybody is impacted.”
The continued push is part of GCS’s larger effort to encourage immigrant families to take part in the 2020 Census and assure them of its safety — and to encourage greater participation across families of all backgrounds. The plan has been effective. As of Sept. 9, Guilford County’s response rate was 67.1%, higher than the state average of 61.5% and the national average of 65.5%.
Ironically, the initiative evolved from the hectic planning that was taking place last spring, when COVID-19 shifted learning from brick-and-mortar classrooms to virtual ones.
In early March, remote learning presented challenges to all 73,000 of the district’s students. But for the families of the district’s 7,089 English language learners, who speak 109 languages other than English, those issues were particularly challenging. GCS Superintendent Sharon Contreras and other leaders knew that without a strong support system at home, many EL students might fall behind in their instruction or give up altogether.
The EL team opened a call center for EL students and their families. Team members issued cell phones to the 35 interpreters of the top seven languages spoken, then distributed the numbers to EL families. Speakers of other languages connect through a service called LanguageLine, which GCS also is using for the first time.
A few weeks into the project, Hayes and her team decided to capitalize on the call center’s success — and the increased positive interactions with EL families — by boosting participation in the 2020 Census. They set out to contact the families of the EL students. All 7,089 of them.
With good reason. Every 10 years, the Census Bureau gathers demographic information about every person living in the United States, including undocumented residents. The results inform the federal government’s decisions on a number of issues — from congressional districting to how billions of dollars are doled out to local communities.
This decennial, just like previous ones, advocates for immigrants say the Census Bureau is falling behind in its outreach to ethnic minorities, immigrants and other “hard-to-count” populations. Part of that is due to challenges presented by the coronavirus. However, some is attributable to the community’s lack of familiarity with the process, as well as fear among undocumented residents that the information will somehow be used against them.
GCS officials wanted to make sure people from economically disadvantaged or marginalized communities fill out their 2020 Census forms, so they have a greater chance of having their voices heard and their needs met.
Teachers and translators worked in teams over the summer, with each responsible for making three attempts to contact 200 families.
“We made about 4,000 calls in the first three weeks, a huge feat considering what our employees are already doing every day to make the school year as seamless as possible under very trying circumstances,” said Mayra Hayes, director of the EL program.
Since then, another GCS department has joined the cause with the door-to-door effort. Staffers also spread the word about the Census during summer lunch pick-up sites and as parents and caregivers visited schools to pick up materials at the beginning of the year, all aided by the help of translators.
If families expressed an interest in filling out the Census, employees would use a tablet or laptop to help them fill it out on the spot.
Some families tell GCS employees that they’ve already filled out the form. Others say they want to, but need help. In those situations, we’re able to go online with the parents and, with the help of translators, guide them through the process.
A few families say, "Absolutely not. We’re not going to do it," according to Hayes. She said GCS employees don’t pressure families to participate, but instead explain the importance of the survey and reassure them that the information won’t be used against them.
“We’re trying to focus on making sure that they're going to have an understanding of the Census and have a voice with it as well,” said Patterson. “Just educating people, I think, has been powerful.”