May 4, 2018 Media

Principal Hiliana León: Connecting with Families through Technology

When Principal Hiliana León of Albany Park Multicultural Academy (APMA) first incorporated technology into her classroom, it was 1997 and her students held Tamagotchi toys, not cellphones. “It’s funny how things have changed,” Hiliana says as she recalls “sitting at a table with five computers, explaining to students what the internet was.”

Hiliana was one of the first teachers at Eli Whitney Elementary School to have internet access and went on to earn a master’s degree in instructional technology from Northern Illinois University. “I started picking up a lot of the technology and bringing it into my second, third and fourth grade classrooms. It seemed to just come naturally to me, and I liked the problem-solving aspect,” she recalls.

Now at APMA, she continues to use technology to connect with families in the Albany Park community. “It’s such a diverse neighborhood,” Hiliana says, “and we also have refugee students within our attendance boundaries.” As a native Spanish speaker, Hiliana can easily communicate and translate for Spanish-speaking families, “but it’s been a struggle to try to communicate with families who speak Somalian or Arabic,” she says.

Hiliana uses technology to find solutions to these communication challenges. In her first year at APMA, she remembers needing to speak to the family of a Vietnamese student, but had no way of communicating directly with the non-English speaking parents. Thinking on her feet, Hiliana “pulled out a phone and used Google Translate so that the parents could understand.” “Obviously, it was not 100 percent accurate,” she says, “but the communication went through.”

Drawing from her personal experience as a Mexican immigrant, Hiliana knows the importance of giving her students’ families a voice. “Too often our non-English speaking immigrant families rely on their children to make decisions,” she says. At APMA, Hiliana has been focusing on increasing communication with families so that they can be advocates for their children.

“I just love using technology in education to engage students and families,” Hiliana says. While technology has changed a lot since 1997, Hiliana’s passion and commitment to her school community has remained the same.