How Can a Communication App Support Student Equity?

Many families are afraid of schools. Parents may have had poor school experiences as children. They may be from societies where distrust and fear of institutions is a survival trait. They may fear support services. For these and other reasons, many parents avoid engaging with schools on any level.

In other families, the workload of parents working odd shifts or multiple jobs often prevent them from engaging with school, even if they would like to do so.  For many parents, the assumption is that if the school reaches out, it is because there is a problem with their child – leading them to avoid teachers and administrators.

Some schools and educators are beginning to address these barriers to the parent involvement that is so impactful to student outcomes. One approach is to reach out proactively to parents in their own language in positive ways. Positive messages to parents about their kids is a great way to start to build trust, and information about how to engage with their children about current school work is welcome and connects parents and students and school more closely. It’s one way to begin to level the playing field for those students whose parents don’t have the luxury of being able to engage with their kids’ schools and involve themselves with their education.

However, there are challenges with the typical communications mechanisms. Kids lose papers and flyers. Parents don’t want to repeatedly check school websites. Parents may not always have computers and internet at home, or even smartphones. Typical alert systems require parents to give their phone numbers for text messages and then have separate “channels” from each teacher and administrator and service.

Edmodo has become such a communications mechanism that solves many of these problems, providing accounts for both parents and students that are private. Parents are not able to communicate with other people’s kids, but are able to see work from the student and information from the teacher.

A new EdTech app, Remind, is also beginning to address these issues, and it is one I really like.  It is clean, simple, direct. Phone numbers stay private, parents can receive messages in a number of ways, even on non-smartphones. And, students under 13 can only sign up if they provide a parent e-mail.

Like Edmodo, it has the most important hallmark of any platform: it is open enough to use in ways that the developers never intended. Further, it can be used with any communications device the family may have, including flip phones/ feature phones that don’t support the full app.

As with all products that provide free services, I am always suspicious if I don’t know the business model. In this case, the business model is premium services on top of a service that will always remain free. That works for me.

Apps like this are important. Particularly while the digital divide is alive and well, mechanisms that work for (nearly) all families make a difference for those student who need additional support the most.

Of course as with all EdTech, the technology alone doesn’t provide the solution.  The solution lies in how humans inside and outside the school system use the tools for the benefit of students. This app could easily be used as a simple alert broadcast system – it takes educators to turn it into a tool for building trust and engagement.

By using secure, clean channels of communication that work with all their families, educators can demystify school, build trust, and work with parents as partners for their kids. Eliminating fear and avoidance of school on the part of disenfranchised parents is a powerful way to enhance student success.

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