July 29, 2021
School districts in Messina, New York, and Lansing, Michigan, introduced new members of their communications teams to parents and students last year: Mini and Raider.
The newcomers are AllHere chatbots the districts implemented to address specific student and family participation goals. In a District Administration webinar on July 20, leaders from both districts joined AllHere
Founder and CEO Joanna Smith to share their experiences with personalized outreach through AI.
Making Minutes Count with Mini
Lansing School District used the COVID-19 disruption as an opportunity to set up a multifaceted team to focus on increasing attendance and engagement across the district. In setting up the “Minutes Matter: Make Them Count” initiative, Lansing administrators made sure to draw in voices from the entire school community, said Cordelia Black, Executive Director of School
Culture. “Administrators are the front line. They are really important for moving this work forward,” Black said. “But you also need student and parent voices and community businesses at the table.
We’ve had all of these, and we’ve seen the context that they bring.”
In addition, the district drew upon national research on positive messaging through texting and nudge letters, including Peter Bergman’s work. And they reviewed what worked well in their own
schools already so they could build upon what resonated with families and students.
Staring in the spring of 2020, their customized chatbot, nicknamed Mini, ramped up to provide 24/7 communications support along with positive messaging about why it’s important for
children to attend classes.
Through Mini, the district sent 9,114 messages over 10 weeks, according to School Improvement Data Integration Specialist Dr. Liesel Carlson. Mini contacted families of students ages PreK through grade 12 to ask if families needed any additional support or connection. This outreach saved staff 503 hours, resulting in savings of $20,974—and it ensured that families all received the same messaging, regardless of which school their child attended.
Mini also received 766 incoming messages and was able to answer 96% of them using pre-programmed responses customized by AllHere using information provided by Lansing administrators. “Mini was able to answer so many questions, freeing up time for our staff to focus on students and families who needed the most intensive support,” Carlson said.
As a result of the successful launch, the district has set new goals that include increasing the attendance rate by 5% by 2022 and 10% by 2025. Together with AllHere, they’re looking at where they need to provide additional support, how they can celebrate successes together with their students and parents, and how they can expand positive messaging.
“We recognize that schools can’t do this alone,” Carlson said. “We need collaboration and partnership with organizations like AllHere as well as our community.”
Building Relationships and Rapport with Raider
To address a rise in poverty over the past two decades, the school district in Massena launched a Community Schools initiative to co-locate services and resources inside its educational
settings to make access easier for students and families. With 64% of its families eligible for free and reduced lunch, District Superintendent Pat Brady said, “We were ripe for bringing in a
program that would support students and reduce barriers to their education.”
After basic needs are met through Massena Community Schools, the staff can start to engage with families about topics like attendance, said Director Kristin Colarusso-Martin. “We’re all
about building relationships here.”
The AllHere chatbot, nicknamed Raider after the schools’ mascot, the Red Raider, was integrated into its existing family engagement, academic, and attendance initiatives at the start
of the 2020-21 school year. “We looked at it as a strategy to reach out to parents in a way they might feel comfortable,” Colarusso-Martin said. The district also uses home visits, parent cafés,
printed letters, community events, and other forms of communication.
They knew they wanted Raider to send out positive, affirming messages as well as information that was important to the district. Messages ranged from specific details of meal pickups to more general check-ins to find out if families needed anything. “It felt kind of weird at first for families to talk to the school on the chatbot,” Colarusso-Martin said, “but they really liked it later on. We had a really positive response from our families.”
As part of the two-person team of escalation coordinators who answered the queries that Raider couldn’t field, Colarusso-Martin reached out to families within 24 hours of their contact. “They
were often surprised that we called them back so quickly,” she said.
In the coming school year, Massena Community Schools will continue to partner with AllHere to really drill down into its attendance initiatives. “Now that we’ve created a positive space,” Colarusso-Martin said. “We’ll use Raider to nudge you that our child is missing a little more school than you may be aware of. Raider fits in really nicely with our whole-child approach.”
This webinar is now available OnDemand. Dive deeper with these two districts by viewing the full webinar here.