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- Tips for Starting the School Year Off with Strong Attendance
Hi! My name is De’Ajha West. I recently graduated High School and am serving as a Summer Intern at AllHere. As a marketing intern at AllHere, this experience has opened my eyes to the staggering issue of absenteeism that school districts face across the country. Absenteeism can often go unnoticed, and it isn’t talked about enough in student & family communities. As September, which is National Attendance Awareness Month, comes to a close, I took the time to interview to Phillip Shaver, AllHere’s Vice President of Client Experience. He is also the former District Attendance Coordinator for the School Board of Broward County. As a former Broward County Public Schools student, I was especially interested in hearing his tips and perspective about how schools and districts can start out strong and improve attendance to help both families and students. Parents/Guardians and Students As the phrase says, “It all starts from home.” According to Phillip, it’s important to ensure that families do all that they can to provide their child with a productive schedule that helps to keep them on track and on time to school. This includes: making a plan for getting to school on time everyday and confirming a back up transportation plan just in case of any last minute changes. It also includes keeping or posting a printed copy of the school year calendar where it will be seen (e.g., on the refrigerator, task board, and/or bedroom door) throughout the home. Whenever possible, parents/guardians should also make sure to document their child’s absence by calling in or sending an approved note, promptly, if their child has to miss school. It’s also important to update emergency contact information, so that the most accurate information is on file. Districts and Schools Phillip also shared tips that districts and schools could use to guarantee that students start the school year off with solid attendance. These tips include: Making a plan for monthly attendance data reviews. This means identifying students who have missed 10% or more school days so far. Schools should determine if additional help is needed for each family using this information. Speaking out on the ‘attendance health’ of the school/district regularly at public meetings such as PTA, school board, and advisory groups. Attendance data is relevant all year and should be a key point at these events in order to raise awareness. Make sure that parents/guardians are both aware of and can easily access district and/or school procedures for reporting absences and tardies. Again, encourage parents/guardians to update their contact information in case they need to be contacted in an emergency. With Attendance Awareness Month coming to an end, the team at AllHere wants to ensure that districts and/or schools across the country support parents/guardians with effective practices, policies, and systems to address chronic absenteeism. Keeping communication open and positive is the start of scaling solutions that can work for everyone.
- Focusing on Attendance in September: Why Now?
As of mid-September, schools across the U.S. are officially back in session. Not coincidentally, September is also Attendance Awareness Month. Getting students into the habit of coming to class every day matters: Research shows that attendance patterns within the first month of school set the stage for the rest of the year. Taking action to engage students and families about attendance is more essential than ever in 2021. Absenteeism, enrollment declines, and educational inequities have all been exacerbated by the pandemic. But the possibility of quarantines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 complicates the messaging. Educators want students to attend school AND be safe and healthy while doing so. Simplifying and personalizing Because chronic absenteeism is a systemic problem, addressing it requires a comprehensive approach that involves schools, families, and communities. But that doesn’t mean the solution needs to be complicated and burdensome. To maximize the effectiveness of our approach, AllHere focuses on: 1. Simplifying content and reducing the effort it takes families to access support. 2. Personalizing information for recipients to make the communication more effective. Data that is specific to the students increases its impact. 3. Paying attention to the whole child and providing families with resources and support to get past the barriers that may prevent attendance. “What’s changing outcomes is our emphasis on outreach to families, restorative messaging, strategic timing, and 24/7 unlimited support with any barrier to their child’s attendance, said Joanna Smith, AllHere’s Founder and CEO. Our AllHere Virtual Advisor is able to offload routine communication tasks from school staff and educators, allowing them to concentrate on students who need more hands-on and personalized support. We combine the relevancy and timeliness of communication via texting with the use of various artificial intelligence approaches – including mimicking cognitive functions and utilizing machine learning algorithms. An approach backed by research The reasons we chose this approach are summarized in our new research brief. In particular, we reference the work of Dr. Peter Bergman, Associate Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a member of the AllHere Advisory Board. His use of data and computer science to develop scalable, cost-effective interventions that improve educational outcomes for youth is central to what we do. Our AI-powered platform for automated outreach represents a universal strategy for encouraging good attendance in all students, offering proven efficacy for both in-person and virtual learning settings. It’s an innovative, novel, and evidence-based solution that increases student participation in school, reduces the dropout rate, and builds engagement with families. In an era when the problem of chronic absenteeism is growing more serious due to evolving and unique circumstances, AllHere offers a simple, powerful solution to help families overcome barriers and ensure their children are present and engaged in learning, wherever that learning is happening.
- Scaling Administrative Staff Superpowers
As the new academic year begins, the environment is—once again—unlike any other. Many teachers are entering the classroom without trepidation rather than optimism. Administrators, teachers, and staff are the foundation of great schools. They unlock students’ academic, social, and emotional development. Yet one in five new administrators leave their jobs within the first five years. This turnover has a big financial impact on school districts. It’s also detrimental to relationships with students and staff and slows implementation of school improvement plans. Teachers’ unions, superintendents’ organizations, parent groups, and community leaders all recognize that an inherently stressful workplace became even more stressful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent surveys like this one provide a closer look at just how dire the situation is. Three in five school leaders say they “often” or “always” feel stressed at work, twice the rate of other workers. The causes range from a lack of technical support to worries about implementation of COVID-19 safety measures. Six best practices to put in place now So how can your district and your school do a better job of supporting these crucial leaders? In a recent webinar hosted by our Founder and CEO Joanna Smith, we explored six ways to scale administrators’ superpowers in your district right now. Establish standards for communication with administrators, staff, and families—and stick to them. Model these standards from the top down as a collective learning community so everyone knows what they are and recognizes their importance. Put systems in place to ensure that the standards are being followed. Work hard to conserve administrators’ time rather than treating it as something to be spent freely. While it’s true that school leaders and administrative staff are in a position of a greater responsibility by the very nature of their jobs, it’s important to have empathy for the limits of their endurance—especially now. Technology can be leveraged to support the goal of freeing up their time for the most important interactions. Make time and opportunity for administrators to collaborate on a top priority when building a schedule. Sometimes responsibilities and tasks become siloed, whether within a school or within a department at the district level. Formalize times and opportunities for staff to share their accomplishments and successes and pitfalls they’ve encountered. Give families unlimited, 24/7 access to one-to-one, transformative, innovative, research-based support. Conversational artificial intelligence delivered via text—the technology that the AllHere Virtual Advisor is built on—is an example of this research-based support. Such tools free administrative staff to focus on the most impactful interactions with families and students. Reduce administrative tasks that have little or nothing to do with teaching or supporting students. First, collect information on all the responsibilities school leaders and administrative staff routinely handle. Prioritize them. Then decide what can be reassigned temporarily, what can be automated, and what can be permanently offloaded. Encourage administrators to suggest more efficient ways to organize their time and responsibilities. While the start of the school year is always overwhelming, patterns quickly emerge—and addressing the major inefficiencies now will give your administrative staff more opportunities to step fully into their superpowers as the year goes on. By implementing these six best practices now, school and district leader can make a real impact on their administrative teams’ stress levels. That will have a ripple effect to other educators, teachers, students, and families.
- Strategies to Streamline, Scale, and Simplify School Communication
During back-to-school season, staff and teachers handle huge amounts of information that families need to ensure their child’s success and stay engaged in the school community. Even so, parents often feel unsure of where to turn—especially after hours. As we know, parents and children often only see each other in the evenings when everyone is tired and no one can remember if the field trip was changed from Tuesday to Wednesday. When schools are able to connect consistently with families in successful ways, students benefit in many ways, including fewer absences, higher pass rates, and a greater likelihood of staying in the district. And it doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. The eBook Strategies to Streamline, Scale, and Simplify Communication to Reduce Stress for Educators was just released to aid educators facing communication strain during the back to school season, and throughout the school year. For a quick read, here are five simple strategies to facilitate communication without placing an extra burden on staff. Define your message What are you communicating? Why? How much information is necessary to get the point across? For most routine communications, that’s your end point. Busy families just want the basics about most events and activities: who, what, where, when, and how. Bring good news Make it routine to share information about individual students’ progress and positive milestones. Putting in a good word about students is especially beneficial for those who had negative school experiences themselves as children and for those who are new to the American educational system and aren’t sure what to expect. Stay ahead of the curve Sometimes schools need to provide information about complex topics. Examples include mask and social distancing policies, curriculum decisions, or expectations for behavior. During times of uncertainty and high anxiety, leaders who initiate communications, express concern for families’ needs, and connect via multiple channels decrease the possibility that misinformation and dissent will flourish. Determine the point of contact The simple step of including a person to email or call for more information about a specific event or activity can reduce the number of inquiries to the main office—which the staff likely would have had to forward anyway. Overcommunicate up front to prevent confusion Establishing lines of communication early in the school year sets a strong foundation. It’s also a good idea to revisit your communication strategies regularly to make sure they’re having the desired impact. Use all the tools at your disposal—email, your website, town hall meetings, open houses, informal events, videos, calls, texts, and social media—to reach every family in the mode that they prefer. Among these tools, there’s particularly strong research about mobile’s effectiveness. 80% of the population has a mobile phone. Open rates for text messages are significantly higher than email or postal mail The average mobile phone user sends 74 texts per day. We leverage mobile with our evidence-based AllHere Virtual Advisor (AVA). AVA enables student success using artificial intelligence, chatbot, and natural language processing technologies to communicate 24/7 via automated two-way texting. Our platform builds on key insights and evidence-based strategies about how best to partner with families so they feel looked after and informed. Our approach has been documented by randomized control trial research to reduce chronic absenteeism by 17%, reduce course failures by 38%, and increase student retention. Best of all, AVA ensures that everyone receives the same information—including whether that field trip was changed from Tuesday to Wednesday. To learn more about implementing AVA and relieving stress on staff as your families return to school, contact us to schedule a demo.
- 7 Ways Districts Are Using AI Chatbots for Back to School
This year, the back to school season is hardly a return to “normal” as districts contend with the rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Concerns around missing students, learning loss, and protocols to protect the health of students and teachers are top of mind for every school leader across the country. The “new normal” in K-12 education requires increased support for students and families that is personalized and scalable to ensure all needs are met. AllHere’s adaptable chatbot helps schools send outgoing messages that reach families on their most preferred communication channel—text messages—as well as automatically respond to their incoming questions. “AllHere’s chatbot is designed so that it can serve as a multi-faceted advisor for families,” said Aliya Haque, Chief Product Officer at AllHere. “We build the initial bank of knowledge in collaboration with our school partners, and over time, the chatbot becomes smarter and learns to respond to a wide range of questions and concerns from families.” AllHere sends students and families timely reminders, personalized responses, and empathetic check-in messages that can meet a variety of needs, including the ones outlined below. Navigate new schedules and health requirements. Help families navigate questions about vaccine requirements, health insurance, wellness resources, and more with automated, around-the-clock support. AllHere responds to incoming questions within 45 seconds to prevent unnecessary confusion about logistical information and encourage positive family engagement. Nudge families towards successful enrollment. Registering for school can be complicated and confusing for families. Many may need a hand navigating the registration process. Nudge them with timely, personalized reminders to complete important paperwork – so a missed deadline never stands between them and their future. Gently alert families to drops in attendance. AllHere’s approach is based on research proven to increase attendance and engagement rates in K-12 schools. The chatbot integrates with your LMS and SIS to track data on absences so that when students miss a certain number of school days, their guardian automatically receives a nudge via text message. Streamline and scale your tech support. Ensure your students have access to the key information, documents, and online resources they need to succeed. Instantly and automatically respond to technical questions from families and students and free up your team for the complex projects that keep your district on the cutting edge. Get to know your student body and parent community. In addition to sending out information, your bot can be used to collect information as well by deploying short surveys. The data from these surveys is collected, tabulated, and distributed to district staff to analyze. Districts can use these surveys to support student well-being by getting a pulse on their student body’s mental health and more. When discussing sensitive subjects such as mental health, the bot will notify a district team member ASAP if it receives any responses or messages that are in need of escalation. Provide students with educational support and guidance. Empower students to find and take advantage of academic support and guidance – no matter where they are. Your chatbot can answer 85% of questions from families and students about their academic progress. When questions require a human touch, your chatbot will instantly route questions to an expert on your team. Offer timely support for linguistically diverse families. Families that speak English as a second language face extra challenges when it comes to communicating with their child’s school and teachers. AllHere’s chatbot can send and respond to messages in English, Spanish, and French, and will be adding dozens more languages by the end of this school year.
- AllHere Advisory Board Launches with Top Leaders from Research and Education
AllHere Advisory Board Launches with Top Leaders from Research and Education Advisory Board brings together top education leaders and researchers to determine future applications of conversational AI in K-12 and improve student education outcomes Boston, MA, August 4, 2021 — AllHere, the leading provider of AI-powered solutions to improve K-12 student outcomes, is forming the AllHere Advisory Board to bring together a broad array of leaders from research and education to support the company’s mission and drive key insights. The inaugural board members are leading education experts and academics whose combined work represents decades of policy work and research into the efficacy of education technology: Dr. Peter Bergman, Associate Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, Co-Chair of the Education Technology at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT Dr. Lindsay Page, Annenberg Associate Professor of Education Policy at Brown University Dr. Michael Gottfried, Associate Professor, Education Policy Division at University of Pennsylvania Jeff Livingston, CEO of EdSolutions, former Vice President of Education Policy and Strategic Alliances at McGraw-Hill Education These four advisors will collaborate closely with AllHere to conduct research and create evidence-based insights about how artificial intelligence and chatbot technology can be applied in K-12 education to improve the student journey from enrollment all the way to graduation. “The formation of our Advisory Board formalizes our long-time commitment to partnering with leading education experts across research and education to develop innovative, proven, and equitable solutions to today’s problems in education,” said Joanna Smith, CEO and Founder of AllHere. “These board members will be joined, in the future, by others who can help AllHere accelerate meaningful impact across all our stakeholders, including families, students, and school districts.” AllHere’s approach and technology are deeply rooted in the research of Dr. Peter Bergman, who has published several randomized controlled trial (RCT) studies on the use of text message communication to improve K-12 attendance. His RCTs for using text messages to improve student outcomes produced astonishing impact, including reducing chronic absenteeism by 17%, reducing course failures by 38%, and increasing student retention. Those insights became the building blocks of AllHere’s AI-powered chatbot. Dr. Lindsay Page brings expertise on quantitative methods and their application to questions regarding the effectiveness of educational policies and programs across the pre-school to postsecondary spectrum. Much of her recent work has focused on implementing large-scale randomized trials to investigate potential solutions to “summer melt,” the phenomenon that college-intending students fail to transition successfully from high school to college. Dr. Michael Gottfried is an applied economist with expertise in the economics of education and education policy. His research targets data-driven decision making on a broad range of educational issues, including student absenteeism, career and technical education, early childhood education, and educating students with disabilities. He aims to boost academic and other student outcomes by examining which policies, practices, and contexts promote or block their success. Mr. Jeff Livingston founded EdSolutions as a consultancy for education innovation and philanthropy focused on underserved students, increasing the diversity of education leadership, and scaling proven innovations to reach the students who will benefit most from them. Prior to EdSolutions, Jeff was a successful edtech entrepreneur and spent more than a decade as a senior executive at McGraw-Hill Education where he was most recently Senior Vice President of Education Policy and Strategic Alliances. About AllHere AllHere combines conversational AI, behavioral science, and interactive nudges to foster attendance and engagement in K-12 education. We automate personalized, two-way text messaging with chatbots to improve attendance rates and guide students and families through school. Our adaptive, evidence-based system provides 24/7 support so that teachers and staff can focus their time on the most meaningful interactions. For more information, visit AllHere.com.
- How Two Districts Are Improving Student and Family Participation with AllHere
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.
- Effective Support for Day-to-Day Family Engagement
As summer break winds down and schools prepare for back-to-school professional development with their educators, finding the best way to engage families is a hot topic. In a previous blog, we highlighted a report from one of the leading voices in the family engagement field, Karen L. Mapp, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and co-author Eyal Bergman. The report, “Embracing a New Normal: Toward a More Liberatory Approach to Family Engagement,” calls “for the PreK–12 sector to walk through the door opened by COVID-19 and the antiracist movement and address the often-ignored and unspoken dynamics that prevent the cultivation of effective partnerships between families and educators.” The emphasis on systemic racism has drawn school leaders’ attention to populations who may have been overlooked in their past calculations on how to reach families. These dynamics are often unspoken—but not by Mapp and Bergman, who are forthright about ending deficit-based mindsets that focus on what families don’t have or didn’t do. They encourage schools to learn more about the challenges families face in getting their child to and through school, then partnering with them to solve these problems together. An exchange of information is vital to this process. “Educators and families should work together to define their shared challenges and improve the educational experience for children,” they write in the report. “Rather than focusing on communicating school rules and procedures, educators should discuss useful and actionable information with families. Scores of research studies show that families want to know more about how their children are doing in school.” The day-to-day elements in their call to action for effective family engagement include: -Demonstrating respect by seeking input from families and listening to what they have to say. -Responding in ways that are competent—and trusting that families are also competent to uphold their role in their child’s education. -Showing integrity by doing what was promised or communicating if the situation has changed. -Showing families and students that they are valued and cared about as individuals. Of course, all of this must be linked to students’ learning and development—after all, this is educators’ primary role. This call to action resonates deeply with our team at AllHere. We believe in fostering true partnerships with families—our innovative, evidence-based two-way texting solution is built around the importance of this for student success—but we are also realistic about the time constraints that busy educators face. We know they benefit from support with outreach to families to ensure they have sufficient time to focus on their primary roles.
- New Report Outlines Family Engagement Best Practices That Support All Children
Working within education systems for many years has shown us just how important it is to support families along their child’s path to and through school. What makes this so challenging is that no two paths are exactly the same. To learn more about each individual’s path, educators have begun to embrace family engagement as a strategic component of teaching and learning. There are many tools that can be leveraged to help educators learn more about the unique factors in each student’s experience—including the AllHere Virtual Assistant (AVA)—but there are also many barriers. For example, mass market family engagement efforts can take on an assimilation function that further marginalizes non-dominant families, those whose race, class, language, or life experiences makes them feel that they are not part of the mainstream school culture. One of the leading voices in the field, Karen L. Mapp, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently co-authored a new report that issues a call to action to break down these barriers so each individual home-school partnership is as effective as possible. The report, “Embracing a New Normal: Toward a More Liberatory Approach to Family Engagement,” calls “for the PreK–12 sector to walk through the door opened by COVID-19 and the antiracist movement and address the often-ignored and unspoken dynamics that prevent the cultivation of effective partnerships between families and educators. We call on the sector to seize this opportunity to move toward a family engagement practice that is liberatory, solidarity-driven, and equity-focused.” Mapp has always been a champion of relationships built on mutual trust and respect. In “Embracing a New Normal,” she and co-author Eyal Bergman encourage educators to self-reflect on whether their approach to family engagement is truly: – Liberatory and free of dominance by the educational system. – Solidarity-driven in union and fellowship with families and students. – Equity-focused to ensure it is fair and just for all involved. In a forum about the elevating family-school partnerships that aired online shortly after the report’s release, Mapp said the COVID-19 pandemic had created a robust opportunity for reimagining family engagement because many educators who had been resistant to partnering with families were thrust into a position where they needed to have trusting relationships with families to ensure student success. In their report, Mapp and Bergman express optimism that current federal funding opportunities related to the COVID-19 pandemic offer schools the resources to invest in new approaches to family engagement. It’s a refreshing invitation for schools to examine their current status when it comes to family engagement—knowing that it may look different than it did a couple of years ago—and explore strategies for moving toward their goals for true partnerships along students’ path to and through school. Check out part II of this blog post here.
- AllHere’s $8M Series A: An Opportunity to Build Public Education Back Better
Today, I am honored to announce that AllHere has raised a $8M Series A round led by Spero Ventures, in support of a deep reimagining – not just tinkering – of K-12 education that uses the potential of AI-powered chatbots to meet every student and family where they’re at with support and guidance from enrollment all the way through to graduation. I can’t help but recall the first day AllHere launched in Boston Public Schools to train teachers and staff about how to track interventions. Our ideology was that if you couldn’t track the data to ensure that students were supported, in an evidence-based manner, then even the most rigorously proven interventions would not get to the projected result. We’ve since seen a pandemic, a rapid increase in the number of students who are struggling to attend school on a regular basis, and a massive shift in the mindset of educators about the role of technology and data-driven strategies to create more equitable learning outcomes. We listened to our school partners, and as a result, pioneered K-12’s first evidence-based, AI-powered advisor – a behaviorally intelligent chatbot that provides educational guidance on a 24/7 basis that now serves over 8,000 schools and 2 million students and families across the U.S. Heading into the fall, the consensus is clear: families and district leaders want a return to in-person learning. But that does not mean a return to normal. “Normal” wasn’t working for historically marginalized students who have suffered from unequal access to high-quality guidance and mentorship. It wasn’t working for stressed out parents whose lack of access to a stable address or internet set their children up for failure in remote learning. The same kids who were underserved for years now face unprecedented academic, mental health, and social-emotional needs that will impact their ability to attend school. Schools will be hard-pressed to meet those needs if they pursue business as usual, and we have an opportunity to do things differently. As a black CEO and founder, I want other black and brown entrepreneurs to know that you are needed. The world needs us to not only be technology users but the creators of the technology and solutions that lead to a more equitable society. Keep building! Thank you to everyone who has supported our journey to build public education back better. Thank you to my incredible team at AllHere, the superintendents, directors of student support and well-being that make our work possible, and our customers that have built right alongside us. Thank you to the myriad of people who have mentored me and continue to teach me to take AllHere further, faster, including my first institutional investors Matt Greenfield and Ebony Brown, new partners Andrew Parker, Stephen Wemple, Shipriya Mahesh, and mentors/advisors Matt Guidarelli, Jeff Livingston, Peter Bergman, Leyla Seka, Mallun Yen, Bill Beecher, Toby Brzoznowski, Hedy Chang, Cecelia Leong, The Visible Figures Community, and the hundreds of people who have extended grace, mentorship, encouragement, and partnership.
- Leveraging AI Chatbots to Reduce Chronic Absence
Strong communications with family members is one of the most important ways to reduce chronic absenteeism amongst students. While many schools strive to achieve consistent messaging and relationships between staff and families, this outreach can be time intensive and inefficient. The pandemic has only made this need for communications more essential, as more students are becoming chronically absent than ever before. The challenges of online learning require frequent check-ins with students and families to make sure they are getting the assistance they need in order to participate in learning. Many school districts choose to send letters, write emails, make phone calls, or home visits in order to track down students and families who are running the risk of chronic absenteeism. However, there is often not enough time or resources to manage all of these interventions, leaving staff members overwhelmed and unable to execute other tasks. These interventions also cannot just happen once, as it is important that families and students are reached out to multiple times to offer support and guidance when it comes to returning to school. Families often report hearing from their school very infrequently, sometimes because of the number of interventions schools have to perform or issues with delivering messages. This can leave families unaware about their students’ progress at school or if they are at risk of becoming chronically absent. For schools who want frequent communication and updates sent out to families regarding student attendance, AI Chatbots are an innovative and scalable technology that can efficiently reduce chronic absenteeism. Automated text messages sent by the bot to families regarding their students’ absences to date ensures that families are aware of how many days missed their students have. Frequently updating families about their students’ attendance status gives them actionable information and awareness about their students’ learning. Keeping families informed about their students’ attendance is one important way that schools can make sure that everything is being done to assist a student in need. Districts can choose when to message families about their students’ attendance, perhaps after a specific number of days missed. This cadence of notifications, written as friendly nudges sent over text messages, allows for families to receive up-to-date information without having to log on to an online gradebook. Sending out this information over text messages is more accessible and increases the chance that the message is read. Texting is an ideal way to send out this information because of how often we communicate over text messages nowadays. Often the easiest way to get in contact with someone is over text message, as many people have their cell phone on them at all times. Our world has shifted to communicating over text messages, so updating school correspondences to these changes is a necessary step to modernizing and adapting our education system. Given the potential for the accessibility of school information sent over text messages, leveraging AI Chatbots for other facets of school communication is one way to build upon this outreach. The bot can not only be used to notify families about attendance, but also serve as an additional resource or line of support for families. The chatbot sends out these nudges regarding absences, but using artificial intelligence the bot also can execute two-way texting communication to ask families if they need any assistance in helping their student get back to class. If a family responds to the bot asking for help, the bot can point them to district resources, such as bus information, technology help, or counseling services. Using the chatbot’s AI technology to assist families and point them to district resources is one way to amplify the support provided to students and families. Keeping families informed about absences is important, but in order to truly reduce chronic absences further assistance is necessary. The chatbot can automatically send out resources and guidance specific to family and student needs, saving time for staff members who have to respond to countless emails and questions throughout the day. For example, the chatbot can send out a nudge to a family detailing how their student has missed a couple of days of school and then ask if they need any assistance getting their student back on track. By probing the family to see if there are any ways the school can assist the family, the chatbot is able to understand what the student and family needs. The family can then respond over text message and say that they need help with transportation, and the bot can automatically send the district bus schedule, making sure that the family now has the resources they need to get their student back to learning. All of this messaging is done through the chatbot’s technology, allowing for staff members to focus on other work and more intensive interventions. AI Chatbots are innovative in the K-12 field, however there is research into the positive impact of this type of messaging and technology. To create our AI Chatbot, AllHere built upon a study by Dr. Peter Bergman of Columbia Teachers College that used two-way texting to message families about attendance. The results of the study were significant, as students whose families received the personalized messages reported an increase in GPA, reduction in course failures and an increase in class attendance. With this research basis, the AI Chatbot sends out messages that are actionable, timely, and relevant, ensuring that families read the information and that the messages are not seen as spam. Using best practices, the bot also does not send too many messages so there is a low opt-out rate for messaging. This way, families view every message from the chatbot as helpful and important, and read messages as they come in. Leveraging AI Chatbots to automate messaging and access to resources is one way to reduce chronic absences in schools. This technology is effective, low-cost, and can reduce staff workloads while increasing support for families and students.
- Reminding Students and Families of Importance of Attendance Actually Improves Attendance
With the rate of chronic absenteeism on the rise throughout the country, many educators and school administrators are wondering about new ways to improve attendance amongst their students. Researchers have studied cost-effective ways to reduce absenteeism in schools and found that drawing upon family support is one of the best ways to ensure that students participate in learning. Using the framework of behavioral science, researchers conducted a study in which they organized outreach to families about the importance of attendance in early grades. Sending letters to families emphasizing the positive impact of attendance for students in lower grades and specifically informing them of their students’ absences led to higher attendance rates and a greater understanding amongst families about the value of attending school. The study focused on messaging campaigns for elementary school families because of the lack of awareness about the importance of attendance in early schooling. Even though lower attendance rates in grades K-5 have a proven negative impact on future student achievement, many families are under the impression that attendance in elementary school is less critical. Letters underscoring the negative impact of absenteeism in elementary school helped to spread awareness about how families can set their students up for success in early years. Reminding families about the importance of attendance is critical to getting elementary age students back in class, as families can play an integral role in making sure their students attend school. The results of this study were significant, finding that chronic absenteeism rates dropped by 15%. Many schools and districts are interested in this type of outreach to families, but few have the time to organize the individualized messaging. AllHere can help by automating communications through two-way text messages. AllHere’s AI Chatbot uses similar concepts to this study by sending out personalized text messages to families reminding them about the importance of attendance and notifying them about their students’ up-to-date absences. Artificial intelligence technology allows for the chatbot to automate all of this messaging, meaning that school staff do not have to send the texts themselves. Changing family perspectives about the importance of attendance for elementary school students is proven to be a way to reduce chronic absenteeism. AllHere’s AI Chatbot uses messaging themes similar to this study and adds automated text messaging technology, which saves school staff time.