I was cleaning up in the kitchen when I heard a text message alert from my phone. Within seconds, another came through. I opened my son's first, who never texted me during his classes at the nearby high school. It simply said, "I love you, Mom." My daughter, who attended the same school, had sent a text with the very same message. While I like a message of gratitude and love as much as the next mom, when both of my children texted me moments apart when they should be busy in class, I knew something was wrong. Within minutes, I heard a helicopter hovering overhead. I tried in vain to reach the school; the switchboard automatically routed my call to their voicemail system. I tried to reach my children on their phones, but there was no reply.
It wasn't until our local news station reported a SWAT situation and school lockdown that I had the slightest idea of what was going on.
It was the first time I realized that every single school should have their own mobile app, if only to use as a direct line of communication to the parents of the children in their care.
This year, our company's first mobile app for a public school system will go live with targeted messages for specific schools as well as district-wide notices. The app will do a lot more than that, but even for this single purpose, the app was worth developing.
Here is why I believe every school needs an app and how we can make that happen:
When we first sat down with the communications team at Albuquerque Public Schools, they had one specific goal in mind that drove every aspect of the design process for their school app: create a communication channel directly to the local school community, from parents and students to the teachers and staff at that school. This team was already very aware of the challenges of getting information into the hands of those who needed it - and the value of doing so quickly and effectively. When inclement weather closes a school, letting the school community know as soon as possible allows families needed time to make new arrangements for the change in schedule. And when parents show up at a school during a lockdown, they become a liability for the emergency personnel responding to whatever might be happening. If a push notices delivered directly to the phones of parents could inform families as to the nature of an emerging situation - and specifically what parents should do in those circumstances - not only does anxiety go down, but the situation can be better managed for a good outcome for all involved. We worked with the school district to create a custom web-based notification center that would allow the district's team to send out notices either to the entire user-base of the app or only to a specific subset who had opted in to receive notices for a specific school.
One of the best indicators for a child's success is the level of engagement that child has with the school community, and when parents and students are kept apprised of upcoming school events such as parent-teacher conferences or school performances, the potential is increased for higher engagement from parents. I don't know about you, but this is what happens to the stack of flyers and newsletters that come home at the beginning of each school year: for a few days the stack sits in a place of prominence in the kitchen, while I still believe that I will find the time to read through each flyer and add each event to my calendar so I won't forget later in the school year. After a few days of avoiding the pile, it finally gets moved to a less conspicuous corner of the study. After a few weeks of gathering dust, the pile eventually ends up in our recycle bin, and none of the events or notices have ever made their way to my calendar. When a school can provide an interactive calendar where parents and students can add important events right from the app to their smart phone's calendar, the chances of the event not only being remembered but attended increase significantly.
Whether you're spending time hunting down the phone number to report a child absent or call a school nurse, or you're searching through the school website to find the lunch menu or the portal for checking online grades, gaining handy access to important school numbers and information saves time and frustration for everyone involved. Well, perhaps it doesn't save frustration for the student who is hoping against hope that her failing grade isn't discovered by a parent, but even in providing easy access to checking grades online, the ability to keep informed as a busy parent makes the difference between discovering a failing grade while there is time to address the problem or not finding out until grade cards come home.
One of the biggest challenges of producing custom mobile applications for schools is cost, and we've yet to discover a school district that isn't on a very tight budget. And many school boards consider a school app a nice perk but not a necessity, especially when the fees would require using tax dollars to fund the project instead of putting that money to work in a classroom. At APPCityLife, we did what we've become very good at doing as a bootstrapped startup - we turned the challenge of funding the app on its head and figured out a way to not only pay for the development of the app but to help the schools earn revenue from it. In Albuquerque, we found community partners in Delta Dental and Sprint, who willingly paid for sponsorship opportunities to help create the app for their community. And when those sponsorship fees had paid for the development costs, we shared the additional revenue with the school's foundation to help fund their many charitable causes such as the clothing bank and homeless children initiative. With this funding model, we believe it is possible to create mobile apps for schools across the country without having to tap into the limited tax dollars available.
You can find out more about APPCityLife's school apps on our website, and if you would like to spearhead the challenge of bringing a mobile app to your school, please reach out, and help me reach my goal of bringing a mobile app to school districts everywhere.