Thursday, April 23, 2015

Say That Again... by Jason Markey

“I call everyone ’'Darling' because I can't remember their names.” – Zsa Zsa Gabor

This isn’t really the problem at East Leyden.  You see it’s not necessarily the remembering of names but rather pronouncing of names.  A little context: in a typical year we have over 32 languages that are spoken in our schools and in our students’ homes.  As you can imagine these span the globe.  Large groups of students who are 1st or 2nd generation from Mexico, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria, Ukraine, China, Syria, and many more.  With these students come rich cultural traditions and heritage often coupled with a desire to continue to assimilate into American culture.  Which brings us to names.  Names like Avani, Xitlalli, Rohany, Najera, and Tautvydas.  

Our staff is extremely caring and driven to create positive relationships with students.  Our students are respectful and kind.  Often, because our staff is trying so hard and our students are so nice neither one wants to offend the other and names can be lost in the shuffle.  I’ve been noticing this the past few years, specifically this time of year.  As every high school administrator knows, this is recognition season, whether it’s award ceremonies or graduation we are constantly announcing students, often in front of their parents and others.  In these situations we strive to make sure the student’s name is honored and we pronounce it correctly.  We will visit the students in class or call them down to our office and feverishly make phonetic notes.  This has always seemed backwards to me, to take so much care in a name at the end of their high school career.  The complexities of a large comprehensive high school don’t allow easy communication of things like the pronunciation of 1761 names across 125 teachers.  

Earlier this year, I came across a web-based application called Name Coach.  The whole idea behind the website was exactly what I was looking for, a solution aimed at precisely what I identified as an issue for us at East Leyden.  With this delightfully simple idea, students are sent a link to record their name; this recording then populates a spreadsheet which can be accessible by anyone who wants to pronounce the name as the student does.  I was excited at the idea and tested it immediately with a small group of students.  The interface on the student end was straightforward and allowed me on the back end to sort and share the list.  This was the start of what I was looking for.  The next step was going to take a willing tech department.  Thankfully, with Bryan Weinert, we are fortunate to have a tech director that understands the importance of leveraging technology to enhance our school community.  Bryan worked with another member of our tech team and East Leyden grad Gabe de Soto to work with the Name Coach team on not only using the application, but actually syncing this information with our student information system.  The end result will be next fall, teachers will be able to select their class roster and arrive at a list of names with pictures and links to the students themselves pronouncing their names.  We will be moving forward with using this solution for graduation this year, and then a full launch for all 1760 students in the fall.

This may sound like a small thing, but recently Avani, pronounced Uv-nee, shared with one of her teachers that no one has ever pronounced her name correctly....since preschool.  This came up during a discussion in class about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein about the importance of the creature never being named.  Avani didn’t want to trouble anyone by correcting them; she shouldn’t have to.  When we can leverage such a simple idea with technology all of our teachers and students can benefit.

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